THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. How about if we start with an amendment, clarification, revision, addendum to what I said yesterday. Someone asked yesterday about Senator Domenici's remarks on a two-year budget cycle, so let me add the following: The administration strongly supports the concept of two-year budgets and two-year appropriations. We first took that position in the original reinventing government report in 1993.
I did mention yesterday that this had been a feature in previous RIGO reports. To quote the original reinventing government report, annual budgets consume an enormous amount of management time. With biannual budgets we might spend more time examining which programs actually work -- oversight function. Two-year budgeting would provide more time for making decisions, more time for existing -- for oversight of existing programs, might help reduce waste. and this little known but interesting historical fact -- the very first bill in Congress to require biannual budgeting was introduced in 1977 by freshman California Congressman Leon Panetta.
Q Does that mean that this is sworn -- administration policy in favor a two-year budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. That means that nothing has happened on it in Congress for quite some time. And if you were the chair of an appropriations committee you might take a contrary view.
Q Well, that's a different function.
Q This morning at the Sperling Breakfast, James Carville suggested that all the President would need to do was "raise his eyebrows" to --
MR. MCCURRY: Like how? Like this, like this, like that?
Q To get him to desist in his multifront war of words against special prosecutor Ken Starr. The President hasn't apparently done that according to Carville, and so my question is then, is the White House content with the way this campaign is being conducted?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I also got the impression that he may have said something about the status of the "campaign" too.
Q He made a number of remarks about that, but they were -- some of them seemed -- well, I don't want to say they were conflicting, but he said that if --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm eliciting information here rather than providing it.
Q Yes. That's another matter. But in response to my question, your answer is --
MR. MCCURRY: The President has made it clear he didn't choose to have any public comment on this matter, and I'll stick with the President.
Q But has he done anything to communicate to Carville privately, like raising his eyebrows, that he wants him to stop?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not winked or nodded, and I won't rule out -- I think for some of you earlier today I didn't rule out the prospect that some at the White House may have talked to James about this issue. And I know specifically George probably did, but George tells me he was reflecting his private views. To my knowledge, no one has communicated anything representing the President's views to Mr. Carville.
Q What were his private views? "Right on, buddy" or "knock it off" or what?
Q Was there concern?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's private views are private.
Q Wait a minute, George Stephanopoulos talked to James Carville communicating not George's views, but Mr. Clinton's views?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Stephanopoulos's private views. Mr. Stephanopoulos may have a private opinion on this matter which he may have elected to share with Mr. Carville, but --
Q But this was the President's views he communicated?
MR. MCCURRY: This is not reflecting the President's thinking, it's reflecting Mr. Stephanopoulos's thinking.
Q So we don't still know -- the President may have thoughts about this, but they --
MR. MCCURRY: I should say, Professor Stephanopoulos.
Q -- but they remain a deep secret, even from Carville, even from Stephanopoulos, as far as you know?
MR. MCCURRY: Whatever thoughts the President may have on this matter, he has not elected to share them publicly, believing that it's best not to comment.
Q Well, how about privately?
MR. MCCURRY: He maybe has some thoughts that he has shared privately.
Q Has he expressed his private thoughts to Mr. Carville, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. They have not --
Q -- or Mr. Stephanopoulos who might have relayed them?
MR. MCCURRY: They have not -- in fact, not had a conversation on the matter, as I believe both the President and Mr. Carville have said.
Q Yes, but has the President expressed his private views to Mr. Stephanopoulos, who perhaps might have relayed them in some form or other?
MR. MCCURRY: I told you to the contrary. I told you that any conversation Mr. Stephanopoulos had reflected Mr. Stephanopoulos's views.
Q Without so labeling them as the President's view.
MR. MCCURRY: And Professor Stephanopoulos is a man of learned opinion and might have his own views rather than having views shaped by the President's.
Q We're certainly not disputing that Mr. Stephanopoulos has his own views, but might not those be a meld of his own and the President's?
MR. MCCURRY: Typical White House briefing. This is how it goes, back and forth. Any other subjects today?
Q Just one more on that. This was a serious issue, that you had somebody from --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it is a serious issue.
Q It seems rather odd that the President would have no view, or express no view on this --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know odd, but he so stated publicly to you just last week.
Q Why shouldn't we assume by all this that the President approves? Why would that be wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: Because you would be making an assumption that's not based on any fact that I'm aware of that you could report. So you'd be making an interpretation absent any factoid to support that interpretation, correct?
Q For the record, the President did not state that he had no views; he stated, no comment.
MR. MCCURRY: He stated, no comment, and elected not to make any comment --
Q But that means if he disapproves --
MR. MCCURRY: -- preferring not to make any comment and believing that not making any comment is the correct thing to do.
Q But that means if he disapproves, and he may, he's taken no steps so to communicate that view.
MR. MCCURRY: That would be my understanding, Mr. Purdum. I believe that is correct. And that is a fair interpretation based on fact.
Q Mike, one more. The context of Mr. Carville's remarks were that absent that raising of the eyebrows or something stronger, Carville was saying that he believes he had tacit approval for this. That was the context.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that would be -- I don't know about the context of a conversation that I did not participate in, but that clearly would be wrong for anyone to draw any inference that the President meant not to imply.
Q Well, why could you not infer at least acquiescence, Mike, by the President's refusal to say anything about views that appear at least to be at variance with his own attitude towards --
MR. MCCURRY: Because one could equally infer disapproval.
Q How? Based on what, pray tell?
MR. MCCURRY: Based on what, pray tell, would you assume acquiescence?
Q I don't know. There's a logical fallacy here.
Q Oh, boy, that's a hot one.
Q Is this what they call sinning by omission and not commission?
Q -- Carville has said the White House is amply capable --
MR. MCCURRY: Brit's got more news today than I do, I think.
Q Well, even before this morning, Carville has said the White House could certainly communicate to him disapproval, and they haven't yet.
MR. MCCURRY: Mara, are you going to beat the dead horse again?
Q Why haven't we ratified a treaty on human rights, Mike, over all this time --
MR. MCCURRY: The Senate has chosen not to ratify that treaty and it has been the goal of the administration that the convention should be ratified. We would acknowledge there are other matters pending before the Senate for ratification. There are also high priorities of the administration. For example, the Chemical Weapons Convention and other issues. But we do hope that the Senate, in due course, will see fit to ratify the convention.
Q Do the Republicans have some objection that this will bind us to world government or some pernicious --
MR. MCCURRY: There have been views expressed by some members of the Senate, and I would not try to speak for those who remain opposed to a document that clearly advances the interests not only of the women of the United States of America, but indeed all women the world over.
Q Mike, what is the administration going to do on Proposition 209?
MR. MCCURRY: They will carefully -- the White House will carefully review the analysis and the thinking of the Justice Department. They've taken a look at the case and they're working with our Legal Counsel's Office here. And at some point, although I'm told not yet, the Legal Counsel here will forward ideas or thinking to the President.
Q So this morning, you indicated it might have been --
MR. MCCURRY: I thought that had already happened. I've checked -- that has not happened.
Q When do you anticipate it will happen?
MR. MCCURRY: Soon. Because I believe there is a deadline -- if they're going to enter the case, I believe the Court has indicated there is a deadline for filing maybe as early as tomorrow. I'd have to check that, but I believe that the deadline is tomorrow.
Q Have you had a chance to review the DLC speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, a draft of it, and it will be a very provocative discussion of the President's concept of the center in American politics and how the center not only held, but can hold and can govern and can lead this nation into the 21st century if we are prepared to do and meet those challenges that the 21st century will need us to meet. For example --
Q Why provocative, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, just because he hasn't talked for a while, since the election on such matters. I expect him to address subjects like the importance of balancing the budget, renewing our schools, reforming welfare, strengthening families, reforming campaign finance, keeping America strong, pointing to those things that we must do if we are to prepare for the 21st century.
Q Anything on foreign policy, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Keeping America strong in the world, the strongest force for freedom, democracy and good living the world over.
Q What about welfare reform?
MR. MCCURRY: But he will say it much more eloquently than that.
Q So this is his manifesto for a second administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this will be -- as you have watched the President often enough to know that he works with ideas and themes -- then come back in major opportunities to address the nation. His next major opportunity to address the nation will likely be his second inaugural address. And I would suggest that some of these ideas might find their way into that set of remarks as well.
Q What time is the DLC?
MR. MCCURRY: Time tomorrow -- 12:00 noon tomorrow.
Q Do you expect any new policy in the DLC speech, or is this rhetoric?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect the President to restate his fundamental commitment to those things necessary to prepare this country adequately for the 21st century, including those aforesaid mentioned items.
Q Will a certain sort of spanned structure over gorges, water, et cetera, be mentioned again --
MR. MCCURRY: That bridge done carry us a long way. (Laughter.) And it done carry us --
Q Don't you think you're over that bridge by now, you're across that bridge? (Laughter.) Didn't you already come to that bridge and cross it?
MR. MCCURRY: We're going to be building that bridge and crossing --
Q When does the President's notes on Hope and History air? Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: Sunday, December 15, 8:00 p.m. on C-Span, tune in. C-Span, that award-winning carrier of all vital things public, including the daily White House briefing.
Q This was the interview taped here yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, sir.
Q Speaking of television, what about the ratings?
MR. MCCURRY: Ratings? We have a dialogue on our way with representatives of the industry and that continues, and so does the work on these measures. Remember, it will be about one year, I am told, before the V-chip itself will find its way into television sets at home and parents can use it to help create the type of family entertainment environment they want for families. And that's a period of time in which we can work through a lot of issues related to ratings and we will continue an active dialogue with members of the industry that we've had so far.
Q But what's been the initial reaction to --
MR. MCCURRY: Some of the reports of the way the ratings might be unfolding we do not take as the last word from the industry on its views on those matters.
Q So, in other words, you want to convince them to toughen it up?
MR. MCCURRY: I continue to have the very fruitful dialogue we're having with them.
Q Prop 209 -- I may not have understood the answer to what --
MR. MCCURRY: It was ambiguous.
Q Are you ruling out any kind of a court action entering the case within an amicus brief or as an interview?
MR. MCCURRY: No. No, I'm not ruling it in or out. I'm saying the issue is still being looked at.
Q If the deadline is as close as you say, will you announce it here if you decide -- if the administration decides to intervene, or will that come from Justice only?
MR. MCCURRY: A good question. I don't know the answer. Normally, what would happen, we would file the amicus brief and then we would talk about it after it had been filed. So I guess it would be filed as a court document, but I can check on that. Looks like we're dealing with that tomorrow in any event.
Q The new trade figures are out. Could you sort of give us your take on them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I have nothing on it, but I'll make something up. (Laughter.) My understanding, looking -- it's a quarterly report that reflects two things. There is still continued strength in exports. We are selling more abroad, which is good news. The bad news is, the strength of the American economy, rising incomes for many Americans are encouraging them to buy more from abroad. So we have an imbalance between imports and exports, but we believe one part of the cause of the imbalance is the strength of the American economy, the confidence of the American consumer, and they're buying. And they're buying, in many cases, from abroad. But the Commerce Department has talked at greater length and more knowledgeably on that.
Q This was just off the top of your head, was it?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, sir.
Q That's pretty good. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, any comment on the fact that Republicans on the Hill dissed the --
Q You've got a future in this business, McCurry.
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q Any comment on the fact that Republicans on the Hill dissed the Chinese Defense Minister today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have made clear their views on that matter. They share concerns that we have on the subject of human rights, but we've made clear our reasons for having a broad engagement, including the military-to-military contact that includes the visit by the Chinese Defense Minister to the United States.
Q On Proposition 209, if a bill is reintroduced by Congressman Kennedy to extend that on the federal level, would the administration oppose it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President opposed the Proposition itself and any position he would take on pending legislation would be consistent his view that that is not the proper way to mend affirmative action, as opposed to ending it altogether.
Q Has the President scheduled a career counseling meeting with General Reno yet?
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet.
Q Mike, is the President doing any personnel interviews today for Cabinet appointments or did he do any yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: He has maybe talked to some folks today, yes.
Q You mean, on the phone?
Q For Cabinet?
MR. MCCURRY: More likely sub-Cabinet.
Q Mike, how is the administration approaching diplomatic posts? Has there been wholesale resignations from any of the major posts that --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, remember the bulk of our U.S. ambassadors abroad are career appointees, career foreign service officers. There are political noncareer appointees. Many of them, like all the political appointees of the President, will have the opportunity to review their situations and there will no doubt be new ambassadorial appointments. But that will be down the road a ways. It will be in full consultation with the State Department and presumably with the new Secretary of State.
Q Given that the Ambassador to Japan was a high profile appointment, would you expect that one to be fairly high up on the list of presidential consideration?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be, because of the importance of the U.S.-Japanese bilateral relationship, we will seek someone who has the same superb qualifications as Ambassador Mondale and someone who can speak for the United States with that same level of authority to the people of Japan.
Q Mike, is there anything new in Christopher's pledge to the Soviets -- or to the Russians -- that we would not station nuclear weapons in Eastern European nations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is part of an on-going discussion within NATO of how NATO can best develop a very strategic parallel relationship with Russia. We seek a formal charter with Russia. Today, the ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council authorized that type of discussion by the Secretary General. One aspect of that, certainly, would be to address concerns that have been raised in the past by the Russian Federation, of which, the issue of positioning of theater nuclear weapons is certainly high on the list of concerns.
Q Was Christopher making a pledge on part of the U.S. or on the part of NATO as a whole? What was the nature of that --
MR. MCCURRY: NATO, as always, operates by consensus and he was reflecting certainly, we believe, a consensus view of the alliance.
That's it? Nothing more? Wait a minute, maybe David can give me some late-breaking development. "Per CEA, the next trade figures don't come out until the 19th." What was that question? I think that was the quarterly trade figures reports that came out today, which you all are reporting on.
Q Will your quote work for the next ones? (Laughter.)
Q That will work, too.
MR. MCCURRY: It will work for the next structural trade imbalance.
Mr. Hume, congratulations on behalf of all of us. I'll say among other things, the case to be made for work space for Fox Network just strengthened considerably.
Q Here, here.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EST