THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let's brief for the day. (Laughter.) The President is looking forward to his social calendar in this holiday season, and among the things that he will enjoy doing, of course, is having his annual holiday receptions for members of the press corps. The President, however, does not see that as a substitute for the type of inquiry that good journalists like to make on occasion, and the President, recognizing that a vital part of the presidency is, in fact, answering questions from members of the press, plans during the course of his second term to have regular press conferences with all of you. And the next one will be Friday, December 13th.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. We'll figure out a time.
Q Will it be afternoon or evening?
MR. MCCURRY: If there's no news we'll do it in the afternoon sometime, and then all the networks won't worry about having to cancel soaps.
Q The East Room?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably not because of the holiday schedule. We'll have to think about where we're going to do it. Probably have to do it over in that ugly room, 450 in the OEOB, but we'll see.
Q You said regular news conferences?
MR. MCCURRY: Periodic, occasional. Regular. (Laughter.)
Q Already backtracking.
Q What does he consider a period?
MR. MCCURRY: He enjoys them. He enjoys them. He enjoys the give-and-take and he enjoys the press conferences.
Q Is this like an FDR term --
MR. MCCURRY: Let's put it this way -- I think he plans to play more rounds of golf than have press conferences in a second term, but I think he does believe that it is important to do that on a regular basis. Of course, he has encounters with you in other situations -- daily photo opportunities, on the record interviews, occasional social moments.
Q Well, we commend him.
Q Give him our warmest personal regards for this decision.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll deliver to the President of the United States the warmest personal regards of a press corps that will now start sharpening their knives for the press conference a week from today. (Laughter.)
Q By the time he has this press conference will he have had several other major announcements on his Cabinet?
MR. MCCURRY: He may have made news between now and then. You never know. It's a daily occasion. He will, of course, deliver a major speech next Wednesday before the Democratic Leadership Council. He will -- what else are we doing next week? He has matters foreign and domestic to attend to next week. The President's Council on Counternarcotics will meet next Thursday, and I expect we will even have General Barry McCaffrey here afterwards to be the special guest performer at my daily briefing, since my act is wearing thin.
Q What day?
MR. MCCURRY: Thursday. That's Thursday.
Q Might the economic team be rolled out for us on --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate about what announcements, if any, the President might make -- speculation not being as good as good, cold, hard fact, of which there are few today.
Q Can we talk about the topic of his DLC speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Talk about how he frames an agenda for America's preparations for a new century, preparing for the 21st century, how Democrats can build consensus for an agenda that will carry this nation towards the vision the President articulated in the campaign just passed. That is enough all-encompassing that we could write any kind of speech to fit within those parameters, because I think they're still working on the speech, obviously.
Q Mike, is the President pleased with the reception that his nominees yesterday have gotten on Capitol Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is in excellent spirits, not only because of the holiday but because of the very positive reaction to his national security appointments made yesterday, and also -- and I draw your attention to the very positive comments coming from foreign capitals. You've seen from the Germans, from our closest allies in Europe, certainly in Asia, elsewhere around the world, very positive commentary about these appointments. And that, of course, is important. That is important for many reasons, not only because those capitals appreciate the degree of continuity suggested in U.S. foreign policy by these appointments, but they also understand the President's commitment to building an architecture for the post-Cold War era that will keep America vitally engaged in the world.
Q Let me ask a follow-up. Was the fact that the President was able to announce those in his own voice, which had substantially returned from the day before, due to his taking any other drugs than the ones that you described the day before -- for example, did he get steroids, which lots of times people get if they're trying to --
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. The information that came to me from his doctor was just the prescription of the acid reflux controller that I mentioned, and also the antacid that he had been taking previously.
Q So are you saying you don't know, or no?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that I was not -- Dr. Connie Mariano is very good about advising me in anything related to the President's health condition, and she advised me only of the matters I reported. I can double-check that.
Q Could you, because my editors are asking that very question and we want to make them happy.
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. I will have one of you guys double-check it. Why don't you go see if you can find Connie now.
Q There's a woman journalist in Taiwan who has been charged -- her name is Gin Chen (phonetic) -- and she's been charged with criminal liable for writing a story about the Taiwanese alleged donations to the President's campaign. Is there any way the U.S. can intervene to save her from this horror?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a matter of domestic law on Taiwan, but as you know, we routinely stress the importance of universal standards of human rights and democracy. Among those we believe is freedom of the press and the protection of those who freely express their opinion, particularly those who work in the capacity of journalists, is a very important standard that the United States adheres to and stresses often in its diplomacy, stresses often in its unofficial dialogue with Taiwan.
Q You mean they are having a dialogue?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware -- I'd have to check if there's any specific reference to that case. I am not aware of that, but I will check at the State Department, and you may wish to check at the State Department.
Q Well, the U.S. does have some input with Taiwan.
MR. MCCURRY: The United States has an influence with a number of countries when it's related to press freedom. I'll give you another very important example. Our charge in Belgrade has been very active diplomatically with the government of Serbia in protesting the recent closures of news organizations in Belgrade as a result of the civil disturbances there. Freedom of the press is a matter that very frequently enters into our public dialogue with other nations and we take those matters seriously.
Q Can you inquire into whether there is any intervention?
MR. MCCURRY: I will run a check and see.
Q What is the White House reaction to the CIA sanctioning of Richard Nuncio for leaking -- to then Representative Torricelli?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is, for us, a painful decision; I'm sure it was for Director John Deutch as well. He is well-known to many of us in the White House who consider him a very fine person who served the President and the White House very capably in handling matters related to Cuban affairs when he was here as our interagency coordinator on Cuba.
At the same time, all of us in a position to receive sensitive classified material know the obligations that go with that responsibility. And we know that there are standards that apply to how we handle that material and that we have to be scrupulous in doing so. The specific case involving Mr. Nuncio was handled by the Director upon recommendation of three-person experts panel that he had review it. I really can't comment on that deliberation because the Director has done so and he had the ability to do it. I can only say that we at the White House who know him, respect him, hope that after the one-year period in which he does not have access to this information, he will see his own career advance and certainly we hope that nothing about this incident prevents his career from advancing as it should given his considerable talent.
Q But shouldn't the American people know when the CIA participates possibly in the demise -- the death of an American and husband of an American?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you will recall that the President --
Q And isn't Congress supposed to know?
MR. MCCURRY: And the President himself, for that very reason, established a procedure to do so, to inform the American public. We asked the Intelligence Oversight Board to do that. They made a lengthy report on the facts. And there are ways in which any officer of government can properly call the attention of superiors' concerns and that those concerns can be addressed. And the issues related here relate to whether proper procedures were followed and whether or not people -- human lives may have been put at risk, among other issues.
Q If Torricelli had asked for the documents, asked the President, would he have gotten them?
MR. MCCURRY: We have -- we would share and did share documents related to these cases with congressional oversight committees. And, yes, we would on a matter like this routinely transact the provision of documents to members of Congress serving in an oversight function. But everyone, whether it's a member of Congress, whether it's a government employee, whether it's -- and those of us who work here in the government do have obligations with respect to the protection of material that's classified.
Q Is the President planning on meeting next week with the Chinese Defense Minister?
MR. MCCURRY: Defense Minister Chi will be here next week and I believe at some point during his visit he will be here at the White House. He is most likely going to see the President, I believe.
Q There is some talk on the Hill among critics that this Defense Minister in an earlier capacity in the military was responsible or was the commander of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he had a role in the government at the time of Tiananmen. He was a chief of staff of the army or a general -- chief of staff of the army, I believe, was his capacity at that time. But that was a decision clearly taken at the highest levels of the Chinese government -- decisions that the United States denounced in quite firm tones at the time.
He is now, of course, because he is Defense Minister, in a position where he is responsible for supervising the type of military-to-military contacts that we believe are in the best interest of the people of the United States of America as we protect our own security interest in Asia.
Q So the fact that he may have simply been following orders is irrelevant at this point given his new job?
MR. MCCURRY: I said it's not -- the incidence at Tiananmen will never be irrelevant to the United States government and that is precisely why there are still conditions that attach to some of our relationships with China. But at the same time, he has a capacity now in which he is the Defense Minister. It is important, in the view of the United States policy, in the view of the United States government, to engage in military-to-military contacts with the Chinese government for a whole host of reasons. But it is consistent with our policy of engagement broadly with the People's Republic.
Q Can I just follow up on the question? It's sort of unusual -- it's pretty rare -- it's not all that common for the President to formally meet with visiting defense ministers.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it depends on the -- I wouldn't say it's all that unusual. There are -- from time to time, he meets visiting foreign ministers, visiting defense ministers particularly when we are pursuing a foreign policy that suggests an exchange of contacts and dialogue at very high levels in government. And you all know from the President's most recent meeting with President Jiang Zemin that that is certainly the pattern of dialogue we expect in this bilateral relationship.
Q Does the President approve of Disney's stand in Beijing?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know whether that is an issue that has entered into our dialogue -- not to my knowledge.
Q Mike, what is the President doing today, if anything, on other transition-related matters? Is he meeting with anybody? Is he interviewing any candidates?
MR. MCCURRY: He is continuing some of the discussions that he has had most recently, continuing some of the conversations with those here who are on the transition team. And his very good work will be abundantly transparent in due course.
Q Mike, there seems to be a little confusion on the talks between the United States and Cuba that have been held in Havana.
MR. MCCURRY: You might suspect that maybe we detected that as well, and I believe very shortly we have a written statement coming out that reaffirms aspects of our policy, most importantly says that the United States throughout the world does not repatriate refugees and those who have a valid claim to asylum. That's been a longstanding national policy. That's one that we take as a very solemn international obligation, and our policy with respect to migration from Cuba is consistent with that.
At the same time, we have had a pattern of dialogue with the government of Cuba so that migration from Cuba can be safe, orderly, and legal, and that we can make it obviously safer for those who not only wish to seek freedom, but wish to come here to the United States lawfully to make the travel from Cuba to the United States in a way that does not endanger their lives. That's precisely why we entered into these discussions to begin with, and the recent discussions between the State Department and the President of the National Assembly in Cuba were pursuant to that policy.
Q On the Saturday radio address, will the President discuss the pending cutbacks in welfare assistance to disabled children? And can you confirm there are three options that he is facing that could affect up to 150,000 disabled children?
MR. MCCURRY: There are not three options that he is facing. There has been a discussion within our government about how properly to implement the recently passed Welfare Reform Act. The President's radio address tomorrow will talk about exactly that. We have to make welfare reform a success, and very hard work goes into that.
Now, part of that work is being done by the states. I suspect the President's radio address tomorrow will focus more on the work at the state levels to implement welfare reform. Many states now are coming forward with their individual plans for implementation of the Welfare Reform Act, and I suspect the President will talk about that tomorrow and talk about the success of the reform of welfare that has already occurred. Recall that we have signed waivers and put in place measures that are taking people off the welfare rolls, and I suspect the President will have some new numbers to share about the success of that effort in his radio address.
But on this other question, a story reported today, there is a preliminary discussion within the Social Security Administration and elsewhere in government about how to implement certain aspects of the law, particularly as it relates to SSI benefits. There are no three options. There is a discussion, different approaches under review, different ideas. There may end up being even more options than that as decisions are finalized and presented to budget policymakers for final decisions and final review.
Q But are the numbers correct as far as affecting between 60,000 and 150,000?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be so speculative at this point I'm not going to confirm some of the numbers in that report.
Q Does the White House agree with Alan Greenspan's assessment of the market?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I think you know our posture on that. We never talk about the Fed, and we never talk about market fluctuations, so why we would talk about the Fed talking about market fluctuations? (Laughter.)
Q So there is no concern that the market seems so unstable today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I was watching the ticker earlier and it was going up and down, and that's what it does just about every day.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to the fact that Mr. Greenspan's comments also caused worldwide markets to decline, not just the U.S. market?
MR. MCCURRY: Unless you want me to move the markets as well, I will refrain from comment.
Q Could you move them up?
Q Do you anticipate future Cabinet appointments to happen --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q No -- as a group, as they did yesterday --
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe. (Laughter.)
Q -- or do you think they'll be coming one by one?
MR. MCCURRY: Who knows? (Laughter.)
Q Over at the Inaugural Committee today, Terry McAuliffe talked about how they will have no fundraisers and they will disclose all the donors by March 31st. Did this policy come from input from the White House? And if so, could you tell us a little bit about it?
MR. MCCURRY: It certainly came from input from the White House. I think everyone here thought -- many here felt that that was prudent, wise, and a good course to follow, particularly in a climate in which the President himself is pushing for campaign finance reform so strenuously.
Q Is the President at a closed fundraiser now?
MR. MCCURRY: He went to a DCCC event earlier and he is back at the White House now.
Q But was that a fundraiser -- that was for the Democratic --
MR. MCCURRY: DCCC fundraiser, yes.
Q Does he feel the same rules ought to apply there?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we're taking care of our business and there are other entities that do fundraising, but we are first and foremost interested in reform of campaign finance laws that would change many practices along the lines that the President suggested in his speech at the end of October in Santa Barbara.
Q But since this is not a regulated activity, the Inaugural Committee, it isn't an FEC matter --
MR. MCCURRY: This is all voluntary, that's correct.
Q Right, it's voluntary. So is it also in the context of the fundraising questions and controversies?
MR. MCCURRY: Not really, because the financing of an inaugural event is different. You don't really, actually fund-raise for inaugural activities; you sell television rights, you sell tickets. It's a different type of process.
Q On the campaign finance, the story in this morning's Washington Post about APAC situation, have you guys figured out how the President's name came to be on the fundraising letters that have October '92?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not looked at that yet. This is the question of how -- he was the national presidential candidate at that point. The experience in the past with the Democratic National Committee is that the presidential candidate often signs fundraising letters, but I haven't looked specifically at that issue.
Q But APAC is not -- says now it's not really officially a part of the DNC.
MR. MCCURRY: No, but it had -- it helped generate what began -- in a sense it grew out of an effort that Chairman Ron Brown, then Chairman Ron Brown began in the late 1980s to really reach out to the Asian American community, as well as other constituency groups of ethnic Americans. That began under Chairman Brown, and the DNC had -- at one point did have a caucus, I believe, within the DNC structure. And then it changed later. I'd have to look and see exactly -- I haven't talked to the DNC folks about that, but they could probably help you.
Q On a foreign policy thing, the opposition in Belgrade says that it has formed a shadow government and is ready to --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry -- where?
Q In Belgrade -- says that it has formed a shadow government and is ready to hold elections. Does the U.S. have any opinion on that and does it have any type of contact, even informal contacts, with these people on that matter?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are -- diplomatic representatives in Belgrade do have contact with political figures across the board. That is a routine part of the work that they do and they are well aware of the views of the opposition, particularly in the wake of municipal elections that were then vitiated by President Milosevic. They have been following particularly keenly recent protests in Belgrade. We've expressed our opinion about that and the action of President Milosevic from here, from the State Department and elsewhere.
And the shadow -- I'm not aware of any contact at this point on that, but I'd want to go back and check with the folks over at State to see if they have directly commented on that. If I'm not mistaken, Assistant Secretary Kornblum was over there just within the last several days, so you may, Jill, want to go over and ask Nick Burns or one of the folks over there if they've had any kind of contact on that specific issue.
In general, we well understand the concerns of the opposition. They believe that they have won recent municipal elections; those elections were then, in a sense, hijacked by President Milosevic. And that was a matter of grave concern to the United States. We expressed our concern and suggested that Serbia's desire to engage with the community of nations, particularly in Europe, and with the United States would be impaired, and that their ability to rejoin the international community would be severely impaired with that type of action and with any future action that might forcibly diminish the rightful dissent of the people of Belgrade and Serbia.
Q How would you characterize any antitrust concerns in the Delta-Continental merger that's in the works?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't because I don't know enough about it. I'd have to check around and see if there's any action on that, if it's under review anywhere.
Q Mike, back on campaign financing -- would the President consider -- perhaps either not attending closed fundraisers or at least making sure that any fundraiser that he attended afterward a list of who was there and how much was raised be put out?
MR. MCCURRY: We covered that in the gaggle this morning and there are some discussions to that effect going on.
Dr. Mariano believes the President's improved voice is due to his cutting down on his speaking and the effects of antimotility medication. That's the Cisapride that I talked to you about the other day that controls the reflux reaction. He has not taken any steroids for his voice.
Q I'm sorry -- that specific question was asked in the gaggle about whether or not he would -- could you repeat what your answer was then?
MR. MCCURRY: I said that we were looking at that, that there were a number of us that felt that that was an important concern. Today's event was a small event. We're not -- we'll have to take a look at the issue of how you would do it and when you would do it.
Q We could not hear the question. Could you rephrase that question?
MR. MCCURRY: It was a question that came up at the gaggle this morning about opening fundraisers.
Q Back on the doctor's note, just for the record, does it say whether -- does it rule out him taking any other medications besides what you've already said, or just no steroids?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I asked the other day. I said, was there any other -- what exactly was the prescription for the vocal chords and the doctor told me exactly what they did -- was the omeprazole, which he had taken earlier.
Q I just wanted to make sure that hasn't changed since then.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, no change according to Dr. Mariano.
Q How is his voice today?
Q The Supreme Court's going to look at whether the Communications Decency Act violates free speech rights. What's the reaction to that review? And presuming -- it's the act signed last February --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm a blank on that. I do not know. Well, I have to look. We're well aware of the CDA and know that. I don't know whether there's any review of that going on in Justice or any recommendation -- I just don't know. Why don't we come back to that next week.
Q Well, let me ask how the President defends his signing the act in light of the fact that 60 percent of the computers logged on to the Internet -- only 60 percent -- are in this country.
MR. MCCURRY: Well the President had -- we'll get you the statement -- his signing statement addressed that matter specifically. We believe that parents need to have tools to protect kids and that we believe within the technology of the industry there are ways to address that and make that happen. At the same time, until that develops, there need to be some protections. And we'll get you a copy of the signing statement because I know it addressed that point.
Q Mike, when asked over the past couple of years, the White House has always said it wants to get involved and help out the District of Columbia's problems. Yet as the city goes from crisis to crisis either in public works or education, there doesn't seem to be anything said or released or done out of the White House -- nothing, in fact, like what's been done with the speeches on St. Petersburg. Has the White House given up on the city or what is it planning to do or what can it do?
MR. MCCURRY: No, absolutely not. And you should contact right away, if that's your concern, Director Raines who has been working, following up the very good work that OMB Director Alice Rivlin did, following up to address precisely the kind of concerns that would concern anyone living here in the District, even someone living, as does the President, temporarily in the city. Director Raines has, in fact, through the Interagency Task Force on the District, been looking at a number of issues. Some of them could conceivably have budgetary impact.
I don't rule out the possibility that there may be some budget proposals related to the District that are developing in connection with the FY'98 submission. So to suggest that there is not any degree of attention to those problems here at the White House is not true, and the President himself and the First Lady are well aware of the situation in the District and concerned about it, and might very likely do some things in the course of the second term that make that concern clear.
Q Well, we've heard that before, and the podium has said that you were going to use the city as a bully pulpit, to use it as an example.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Stay tuned then. We'll see.
Q Mike, just for the record, could you describe the entourage for the President's travel tomorrow and indicate if he's having any sort of dealings with pre-game tension amongst members of his military staff?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll have ample opportunity during the day tomorrow to engage with some of the military folks from both sides of the stadium who are there. He'll also, I think, at some point have -- there was some suggestion he might be able to meet some of his political supporters from up there. I believe he was talking to the Mayor about having an opportunity to see some others, too. So he'll be able to do a little more beyond just football. But he's looking forward to the game. He'll see the Secretary and General Shalikashvili and -- who else are we seeing?
MR. FETIG: He'll see the Army chiefs, Air Force -- or, Navy chief --
MR. MCCURRY: The Army and Navy chiefs will be up there too and he will have some chance to visit with them during the game.
Q Do you mean a separate event for political supporters?
MR. MCCURRY: Where are they going to do it, though? At the game?
Q Did he give it any thought to taking the train up? You know they always hold these party trains on the way up.
MR. MCCURRY: They did and the President thought that sounded like more fun than flying up. But for logistics purposes it worked out -- probably worked out better for everyone who's looking forward to taking the train ride for the President not to take the train. That was the bottom line. (Laughter.)
Q Traditionally, the President sits on one side for each half and then crosses the field and, apparently, according to the schedule, he will. Now, will he be sitting outside instead of protecting his voice by maybe moving up to a press box?
MR. MCCURRY: As near as I can tell the outside temperature doesn't have that much of an effect on the vocal chords. That was not one of the things indicated as a factor impacting his hoarseness by the doctor. So, yes, he'll be outside. He starts on the home team side and goes to the visitor's side.
Q Who does he hope wins?
MR. MCCURRY: He looks forward to a great game in which he will have -- he'll root for both sides.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, quietly.
Q He doesn't want us to talk about Carville and his efforts to knock Starr, but yesterday he said he also wanted to broaden his campaign or his public information campaign to take on opponents of the President's domestic and foreign policy. Do you think that is a good idea?
MR. MCCURRY: I've got nothing new on that.
Q Do you think it's a good idea for Carville to back -- as he appears to be doing, backing away from this frontal attack on Ken Starr?
MR. MCCURRY: In fact, I'd stick with what I said the other day.
Q Mike, today is Pearl Harbor Day, Japan time. Do you have any comments or will the President have any comments tomorrow at some point?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I hear planned. There will be a statement coming? A statement was put out on it yesterday.
Q Mike, does he have anything on the schedule for Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: Kennedy Center honors will be that day, right? And what are we doing?
Q He has a reception and then goes to the performance?
MR. MCCURRY: We do -- reception here at 5:30 p.m., East Room, pool coverage: 7:30 p.m., he goes over to the Opera House for the Gala. Who's performing? Anyone good?
Q It's a secret. The performers are always a secret.
MR. MCCURRY: The performers are always a secret?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, CBS is protecting its equities here. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, any travel coming up?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be some -- well, travel tomorrow, obviously, and travel -- I've indicated maybe a possibility of some travel by the end of the month.
MR. MCCURRY: I gave that all for planning purposes.
Q Renaissance, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: No, before that. Before Christmas.
Q Did you find out anything about the Christmas --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll do a schedule for you off-mike.
Q Where the President will be and all that?
MR. MCCURRY: Schedule info off-mike. What else? That's it. Goodbye. Thanks.
Oh. That constitutes -- with the exception of travel pool -- you've got a lid. And, with exceptio n of the travel pool and
also the advanced text of the radio address which will come out later this afternoon, that's the lid for the day.
Q Is he going anywhere tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of yet, but we'll keep an eye on. That's why we're keeping the travel pool on hold.
END 2:18 P.M. EST