THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, ladies and gentlemen, let's get underway here. I shall announce that to which I hinted earlier today. There's always a way to bring a hush on to the room there.
On Monday, December 23, 1996, the President of the United States will visit Marines and their families at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. The visit celebrates the holiday season, highlights the contributions and sacrifices made by America's Armed Forces and their families. And the President will meet with a unit while he's down there recently returned from a six-month appointment to the Mediterranean Sea; also with Marines and sailors on alert over the holidays.
This continues a holiday tradition by the President in which he has spent some time with members of the Armed Forces and their families. It's his first time really to be at a Marine Corps facility, and the President is looking forward to a trip that will begin not too terribly early in the morning and have you back in Washington by around 5:00 p.m.
Q Are you going to release the Huang letters?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. You want them?
MR. MCCURRY: Call Andy Davis. That's music to my ears. Mr. Davis will make those available. They've been made available to the committee and you can contact him and he'll make them available and walk you through them.
Q Do you get the feeling that the Riady family was trying to use their on-paper link to Clinton with all of these letters to influence Hanoi in giving them business?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe the White House is in a position to tell you how Mr. Riady or anyone connected to the Lippo Group may have used any correspondence they had available. I'm not aware that we have access to that information.
Q Was that a concern of yours at all that that's what was going on?
MR. MCCURRY: Without addressing that specifically, because, again, we don't have facts to support it, I think it would be of concern to the White House anytime anyone misrepresents the nature of a relationship with the President, with the White House, with White House staff or the nature of their access or their ability to influence decision-making here. That, of course, would be of concern to us.
Q Is there any significance to the President having hand-written in one of the summaries, "have him come in and see us"? Is that normal procedure, or is --
MR. MCCURRY: He will often, as in that case, sort of say, look, I'll see someone for a couple of minutes if they're in town, which is a rough paraphrase of what he did in this case.
Q Do you know if those letters have gone to the Hill? Some people on the Hill -- the Post has said they had gone to the Hill yesterday; the Hill says -- Gilman's committee says they haven't received them.
MR. MCCURRY: Why don't we say they are going to the Hill. I assume that they were sent. I was told they went up last night, but then we got into this back and forth last week about when they went. They're on their way to the Hill, why don't we say. But they're available to you.
Q The President's radio address and speech today was conspicuously minus of any of the remedies that he had talked about on welfare reform in the campaign. Is that valid?
MR. MCCURRY: They're not -- this was not designed to be a policy address in which he would lay out the elements of welfare reform. They were to highlight the goals that he will address going into a second term beginning next year, and reforming welfare is chief among them, making that a success, concentrating first on implementing the law, concentrating on building on the successful experiments with the waivers that have been granted.
First and foremost, the President has the responsibility to execute these laws and to successfully implement welfare reform to make reality the promise of moving people from welfare dependency into work situations. There are some troublesome spots in the bill the President has identified and he needs to work on those as well. But the larger question is how can we make welfare reform a success.
Q It sounds like he's ignoring the troublesome spots.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not true. There's been a considerable amount of work being done on that question at the Health and Human Services Department here at the White House -- a lot of good discussion about how to address that question and how to place those corrective measures in the context of our FY '98 budget proposal because they do have budgetary impact.
Q Mike, this morning you commented on the Henry Cisneros letter that was written about in the Wall Street Journal. Are you saying that the leaking of that letter or memo has weakened his argument for restoring that money?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I mean the argument will be considered. It just -- the arguments are always more effective when we're at this point in the budget process, when they're made within the context of the deliberative process we have underway on budget decisions. That's true for every Cabinet agency.
Q Is it fair to say that there are numerous letters of that variety going back and forth right now?
MR. MCCURRY: It's fair to say we are in the budget season. It's that season, that time of year.
Q Is OMB or the President directly hearing from lots of different agencies sort of protesting contemplated --
MR. MCCURRY: You can check with Larry Haas at OMB and find out exactly how many have responded back. But just prior to Thanksgiving, we did -- the OMB did the pass-back to the agencies; the agencies fairly routinely come back on a reclamma and ask for an opportunity to re-air some of the issues that have been passed back.
Q Give me that work again.
MR. MCCURRY: Reclamma.
Q Mike, how do you spell that?
MR. MCCURRY: R-E-C-L-A-M-M-A.
Q What is that?
MR. MCCURRY: It means it's an appeal. It's a diplomatic word. I'm not sure if that's a budget word, it's a State Department word.
Q Is it like tranche?
MR. MCCURRY: It's like tranche.
Q And demarche.
Q Demarche, tranche and reclamma.
MR. MCCURRY: It's like "de marshmallows."
Q Where is the President going to emphasize in all of these budget things? All the human problems seem to be coming to the fore, and there seems to be no answer to what he's going to do about them.
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, we were talking earlier today about the heating oil assistance program, the energy assistance programs. Remember, that was a program targeted for elimination by the last Congress or by the majority in the last Congress. In some cases, these programs that are a valuable part of the social safety net we have to defend, we have to look at and we have to demonstrate that we are administering them efficiently and managing resources for them prudently. And that's part of the discussion that is underway by the President's budget planners now, because we, in order to protect these programs that are important, we have to make sure that they are well-targeted and that they are funded at levels that will likely receive support by a majority of the members of the Congress.
Q After the original outpouring of support for all of the President's nominees of last Thursday, Senator Specter now says that he has serious reservations about Mr. Lake at the Central Intelligence Agency. Any response?
MR. MCCURRY: He raised concerns about an issue that has been thoroughly reviewed by the Select Committee on Intelligence. It relates to U.S. policy towards Bosnia. I think the items of concern there have been addressed by the administration and addressed by Mr. Lake on other occasions. I'm not aware that that should pose any insignificant problem as the Senate considers his nomination. But it is up to members of the Senate, as this member has done, to express their opinions as they see fit.
Q When the President acknowledges, as he did in his speech today, that there is public attention focused on campaign finance reform and then puts it back in the laps of Congress again to do probably what it had done before -- is there anything else he can do to move this issue along, other than saying it's them, they ought to fix it?
MR. MCCURRY: He can speak to it and use the resource of the bully pulpit to try build public support for finance reform and keep the heat on. That's what he fully intends to do. If you ask him, why didn't you do more of that in the first term, his answer would be, I, frankly, didn't think it was going to pass because we didn't have a margin that could break a potential filibuster in the Senate. But I think he's come to the conclusion that he will need to speak to this issue regularly; he will need to work with a bipartisan coalition in the Congress that wants to see campaign finance reform accomplished.
QQ Does that include Senator McConnell?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Senator McConnell has already spoken himself to some of the underlying issues. He's clearly going in a different direction than those who are supporting the bipartisan elements of the McCain-Feingold legislation which represents, as the President has said, the best vehicle available as it will be modified to take into account other concerns for the 105th Congress to consider the issue.
Q On the housing issue, the President had been adamantly opposed to block-granting Medicaid. Why are administration officials considering block-granting --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm just going to decline to get into the substance of deliberations on specific issues. I've told you that there's a responsibility on the part of the administration to administer these programs effectively, make sure that we keep in place important programs of assistance for the poor in America, of which housing assistance, energy assistance are examples.
But that is the type of policy issue that the President's budget planners wrestle with as they prepare a budget submission to the Congress, and it's part of the discussion back and forth between the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies underway now, and that will result in the President's budget proposal submitted to the Congress in February, which will be well-debated, well-discussed and publicly reviewed.
Q Several members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle and Joe Kennedy today have been very strong in letters, I believe, to the President. Joe Kennedy called it a reckless course, called -- would be at the expense of poor and elderly citizens. Is the President worried this is going to reverberate with the liberal constituencies?
MR. MCCURRY: The President knows that this will be part of the public debate that surrounds his budget submission. But the time for that debate appropriately will be once he makes his own decisions, which he has not yet made, and once he fashions the budget proposal that he delivers to the Congress. We're in a stage now where the OMB is wrestling elements of the proposal to the ground with various agencies; that will result in several issues of which this might be one that have to be addressed by the President's senior economic and budget team, and then perhaps by the President himself, prior to the finalizing of any budget proposal that goes to Congress.
Q On Proposition 209, I understand the Justice Department will take more time on its study.
MR. MCCURRY: The Department asked the White House for additional time to address the legal basis for a challenge to the California proposition. The White House believed it was proper to give the Justice Department time to look at those legal issues. The only deadline we were facing was whether or not to enter the case at the point of the oral argumentation on a motion to grant a preliminary injunction, which will be argued on Monday. There are other opportunities that will occur later in the litigation for the government to enter the case if the government decides to do that. But it was best in the President's view, in the view of the White House, to allow the Justice Department additional time to look at the underlying legal argumentation that arises from the case the plaintives have brought.
Q So the White House -- it wasn't the White House saying that politically it's better to wait for a while? It was just the White House would like to do it now -- waiting for Justice?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House responded to a request from the Justice Department to take additional time to look at some of the legal reasoning behind the case itself.
Q What is the thinking about -- are you going to be guided by what Justice says the law says, or are you going to enter the case because the President is opposed to 209, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first and foremost, entering the case means it has to be on a sound legal basis. Allowing the Justice Department time to thoroughly analyze the legal issues that arise from the case would be warranted under any circumstance. But then if they make a recommendation or make an analysis that would then have to reviewed by the White House in due course.
Q I'm a little perplexed why this has suddenly sprung on the White House like this. This has been on the ballot for --
MR. MCCURRY: I think there are a couple here who are a little perplexed by that, too.
Q This was on the ballot for a year and a half. The President spoke against it nine months ago. The wording of the litigation was pretty clear, it was in writing.
MR. MCCURRY: No, let me correct that. The President --
Q The wording of the initiative --
MR. MCCURRY: The President's opposition to the initiative itself is well-known. He spoke to it, he campaigned against it actively, even in the closing days of the campaign while in California. But the strict issue here is on what constitutional grounds the plaintiffs are seeking to overturn the proposition. Motions and argumentation in that issue have only recently been following the election as it was challenged in the courts. So I don't think it's fair to look back all the way through.
Of course, the President has been opposed, has expressed his opposition, reiterated his opposition publicly yesterday. That's not the issue here. The issue is what are the legal grounds for a constitutional challenge.
Q The cases cited by opponents of it are years old. My question is why the Justice Department wasn't doing some of this work before.
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question I think you should fairly direct to the Justice Department.
Q Mike, in the President's speech he mentioned the Texas results yesterday by example of the vital center. Is he referring to all three races, including the one where two Republicans were against each other, or can you elaborate on that?
MR. MCCURRY: In a broad sense, there were the three races yesterday offered opportunities for candidates of the vital center, which the President defines, obviously, in a bipartisan way, to make the best arguments.
There are some cases -- each of those three races, of course, had different dynamic to it, but in the case in which two Republican candidates ran against each other, the more moderate -- I mean, I guess you could say you've got the right and the far right in that race -- but the candidate of the right or closer to the vital center was the victor. One of the other races, there is some evidence that because the Republican candidate took more moderate positions on some issues, especially choice, that the far right sat out the campaign and didn't lend much assistance.
Then, of course, in those races, we would argue that good, sensible Democratic candidates of the vital center were ultimately the victors. The result is that we've picked up a race. The significance of it all, I would suggest, is that this is a microcosm, something that the national Republican Party has to wrestle with now, which is the tug of war in that party now between more moderate centrist Republicans and those who are more activist in the far right of the party.
Q Do you have a reaction on Hong Kong's new chief executive, and specifically do you have any concerns about his record on human rights and democratic reform?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- we did not have an opportunity to have fully looked at that specific issue. The general reaction -- we congratulate Mr. Tung on being chosen by the selection committee to be the governor of the new special administrative region for Hong Kong.
The selection process that chosen, while it was certainly not democratic, was set forth in the joint declaration between Great Britain and the People's Republic of China on how to structure the transfer that will occur in Hong Kong. So it followed the measures that had been jointly negotiated between the British and the Chinese and our interests in Hong Kong, which are significant and which include substantial financial investments on the part of the United States in the future of Hong Kong also reflect our desire to see continued promotion of democratic institutions, including the valuable component parts of human rights that include freedom of expression and freedom of press and those things that one expects from a democracy. And we'll continue to make that point as we have bilateral dialogue with the Chinese government on the future of Hong Kong as we have in the past.
Q Mike, on a couple of the issues that he touched on in the speech today, the President talked about the need to form bipartisan coalitions -- something along those lines. Is this an idea that was reserved for the DLC or can we expect some active White House effort to create bipartisan coalitions on some of these issues that he touched on like welfare reform?
MR. MCCURRY: As a practical matter, the President sees the future decision-making in Washington as a bipartisan exercise if it's to be successful, if it's to make progress. There are a number of issues that will lend itself to that. As an obvious practical matter, we'll have to have some bipartisan consensus to achieve agreement between the legislative branch and the executive branch on any number of issues that we'll face.
But the President, as he suggested today, believes that there is a basis for believing -- at least hoping -- that a bipartisan consensus, a bipartisan approach to these issues will bare some fruit.
Q So this is a conceptual idea? We're not going to see a White House bipartisan coalition on campaign finance reform --whatever --
MR. MCCURRY: We would hope we would see bipartisan coalition on each of those issues the President identified today -- balancing the budget, reforming education, reforming welfare, reforming our campaign finance laws, a bipartisan foreign policy that continues to put the United States in a leadership position in the world. On all of these matters, I think the American people would appreciate seeing Democrats and Republicans working together rather than some climate of acrimony in which it produces inevitably more gridlock and more despair by the part of the American citizens.
Q Has the President had a chance to meet with Attorney General Janet Reno yet and let her know her fate?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not and as he indicated yesterday he will do so sometime soon along with the other members of the Cabinet he has not yet seen.
Q But Erskine Bowles, when he was up here at the national security briefing, explicitly responded to somebody asking about Secretary Rubin, saying, I see no reason why he wouldn't stay even though that decision not formally made. Why is Erskine endorsing some Cabinet members but rather conspicuously leaving her out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well --
Q Why can't she stay if she wants to?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to compare the two situations, but in the case of the future role of the Secretary of Treasury, there are other economic impacts that any other answer to that question might have engendered. And I think Mr. Bowles may have had that in mind. Just think about that.
Q Do you expect to have any personnel discussions before the Friday news conference, if you have them then, indeed?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there's a lot going on around the White House these days and a large part of it is personnel discussions. So, yes, I do anticipate there will be a lot of personnel discussions. Do we expect any here publicly before Friday?
Q Before Friday.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't because I would hope that whatever few shreds of news we have, we might save them for you for Friday.
Q Did the President happen to mention, after talking about hostage rescues last night with Mr. Richardson, happen to mention jobs?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure they had a good, lively conversation about any number of topics.
Q We just thought we'd try.
Q Your remarks on what Erskine Bowles said -- does that open the door at all towards the possibility that Mr. Rubin may leave? I mean, can you slam that door shut? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Now you want me to move the marker.
Q Can you just slam that door shut?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I'll stick with what Mr. Bowles said. I think that was pretty authoritative.
Q Saudi Arabia -- is the U.S. happy, satisfied with the cooperation it's receiving from --
MR. MCCURRY: There's an ongoing investigation and we are satisfied that that ongoing investigation is making progress. Otherwise, I have precious little to say on that subject.
Q Mike, there doesn't seem to be any clear consensus going on at the U.N. about a Secretary General candidate. Can you speak to what the current White House thinking is on a candidate that could possibly get even a remote majority of a vote --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's a process underway and is, as always with the selection of a Secretary General, they go through a dynamic that is suggested by where we are now. Now, my understanding is that one candidate did receive, in fact, a sufficient number of votes for election, but that is a process that will continue to churn in the next couple of days, as it usually does.
Q Without a veto hanging over it?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see what happens.
Q Is the administration doing anything to try and break the stalemate with France?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that there's -- I haven't heard the French government pronounce itself in a condition of stalemate.
Q John Kennedy, Jr. in the Oval Office this morning --
MR. MCCURRY: He sure was.
Q Can we have any color descriptive of what transpired?
Q Is he getting a job?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. Why don't we get someone -- we had a number of people who were there, excited by the moment. Can we have any color?
Q Is he being considered for something? (Laughter.)
Q Go ahead and answer that.
Q Perfectly good question.
Q A legitimate question.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer, to be frank. Not that I'm aware of.
Q What are you smiling about?
Q Do you think he would take Secretary of Transportation?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of people that seemed to be standing outside the Oval Office considering him in a number of different ways. (Laughter.)
Q People that needed bibs?
Q -- reports this morning -- in fact, a colleague of mine, Paul over here -- on limited access that Joe Public can buy tickets to Inaugural balls. I know Barry responded to it in some degree, but there seemed to be a serious question about whether or not the average person could really have a real shot at buying the ticketed events -- buying tickets for the ticketed events like the balls or other things.
MR. MCCURRY: You want to do that? I'll make a prediction. There is going to be an Inaugural ceremony on January 20th. There will be lots and lots of average Americans present and attending that Inaugural ceremony. There will be a lot for the parade. There will be a lot at the U.S. Air Arena for the free event. There will be a lot on the Mall attending the free events there. And the black tie, tuxedo event will be for the fat cats, as the way that's usually the case. (Laughter.)
Why did I have to say that? All right, Barry Toiv is going to give a much more distinguished answer to that question.
MR. TOIV: There will be some thin cats, too, but they will primarily be supporters of the President. There will be a number of contributors who are among those who can purchase tickets. But invitations to buy tickets are also going to other supporters of the President, not just contributors, as well as to public officials around the country and others. And so I don't think it's quite fair to state it that way.
But it is traditional -- (laughter) -- oh, I wasn't referring to you, Mike. (Laughter.)
Q I'm not talking about supporters, I'm talking about the average person who may have voted for the President that says, hey, I didn't give a dime, but I want to go to the ball and I'm not going to get an invite because I'm not necessarily on any list somewhere.
MR. TOIV: I think it's fair to say two things -- two things. First, I think it's pretty traditional that the balls are primarily for supporters. But more to the point, there's only so much room in them.
Q Due to all the cats being fat and all.
Q Is there going to be some sort of fairness process, lottery -- anything?
MR. TOIV: And as Mike pointed out, there are going to be a lot of events, including, of course, the main events, which are the Inaugural ceremony and the parade, which the public will have full access to, as well as all of the events that are going to go on over the weekend.
Q That ought to hold them, huh? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I'll bet you this -- I still would imagine that this Inaugural will look more like America than one that might have happened if the outcome had been different in the national election.
Q Was there any consideration given to a people's ball, like President Carter had done?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know the answer to that.
Q It was a terrible party. (Laughter.)
Q Who's going to get the President to the swearing-in on time?
Q Do you have any comment on Senator Lott's comments of last Sunday questioning the independence of the Federal Reserve?
MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.)
Q Does the President have some sort of narcotics event scheduled tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Some kind of what?
Q Sorry, I'm just checking on the schedule for tomorrow. Does the President have some sort of narcotics event -- antinarcotics event --
MR. MCCURRY: He has got counternarcotics Cabinet team here. The Task Force on Counternarcotics will be here, and I the Cabinet team here, the task force on counter-narcotics will be here and -- do we still plan to have General McCaffrey brief? He will kick off the briefing tomorrow.
Q What is that about?
MR. MCCURRY: His review of the administration's antidrug and drug control strategy.
Q Can you outline who is in that group, in that drug policy group?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I don't have the full list of it here. Do you have anything on it?
MS. GLYNN: I don't have the full list of it. It's basically any Cabinet that has --
Q As far as Cabinet level?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the Cabinet -- we have designated those Cabinet members have got a role to play on the task force itself and we can do a little bit of background on it.
MS. GLYNN: Christopher, Reno, Shalala --
MR. MCCURRY: Let's try to get a whole list of participants and then take it from there.
Q Can I go back to the John Huang thing for one -- because Gilman's committee is upset because this and phone logs and other things have been released publicly, they talked about publicly, before they've gone to the committee. Is the White House -- is that a slip?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, different entities responding to the numerous and multiple requests from Congress -- Commerce Department in the case that you sighted is, to my knowledge, the one responsible for that particular matter. But I have instructions from the President to forthrightly and candidly answer questions from news organizations. So that is what I'm doing and that is why we now have an additional full-time person doing for your behalf.
Now, there are others here who are trying to respond to the congressional inquiries, but those are different from media inquiries. And we have gone to various news organizations that -- one news organization here in Washington has, I think, probably a dozen or so reporters working on this. We've asked them to prioritize their requests for information, and what they are looking at, give us a sense of what is most important, and then we hunt down, chase down answers for them and provide them.
And if Mr. Gilman is suggesting that we should be withholding information from the press making these inquiries, I'll let him make that argument and discuss its merits. I'm just doing what I'm doing.
Q No, he's making an argument that he wants them and he's been asking for them and you've been saying, well, we're going to get them all together and give them to them. Why do they get -- why does the Post get them before his committee?
MR. MCCURRY: Because, among other things, other news organizations are willing to work with us, indicate what are their highest priority levels of concern, what issues are they looking at, do they want to write about, do they want to report. That gives us a chance -- we have a limited number of lawyers who are doing this, but a lot of them doing it full-time at taxpayers expense, and we appreciate the cooperation of the news organizations that tell us what is most significantly of interest to them -- as opposed to some of the committees in Congress that just say, we want everything and we want it now. And sort of say, well, that's a big assignment, so you've got to take a lot of time to make sure you've got everything that they've asked for. And it's a lot easier -- has been easier for us to identify some of the specific requests, get it together, and dump it out to all of you, which is how we've been instructed to handle this by the President.
Q Looking ahead, you could be looking to five or six different on-going congressional investigations at the same time. What does that forbode?
MR. MCCURRY: It means there will be, no doubt, some overlap, a lot of work being done by various congressional staffers and lawyers here at the White House to search through and produce documents that have been requested at considerable expense to the U.S. taxpayer. That's what it means.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
END 2:58 P.M. EST