THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
9:55 A.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: I just wanted Elaine Kamarck, who knows a lot about the airline safety initiative announced today, to be here in case there were any questions on that. Any questions for Elaine?
Q This is going to be expensive for the airlines. Is there any discussion about tax credits or some way to help them pay for this?
MS. KAMARCK: None at all. No, we had no discussion at all. This is purely voluntary. They're agreeing to take the whole cost themselves. And the costs are not only of installing equipment, but also they have to ground the plane -- take the planes out of commission for a while while they do it. So, no, they're bearing the whole cost. We never discussed any government activity.
Q So the $400 million figure includes grounding the plane?
MS. KAMARCK: Yes. I mean, that's why it's so expensive. It's not only the installation of the equipment, but you have to take the plane out of commission for a while.
Q Just to follow up, the Vice President talked about the suppression equipment and there were further discussions in that area. Could you elaborate on that? And what about tax incentives or helping the airlines pay for that somehow?
MS. KAMARCK: The rule-making on the suppression is going to go forward. We are hopeful that today's action means that we'll go forward in a sort of new regulatory mode with more cooperation. There are more significant technological problems in the suppression systems than there are just in the detection systems. But what we're hopeful is that as we sort of turn the corner and start a new relationship between the airlines and the FAA, that these things will move faster. You know, this has been -- these things have moved incredibly slowly in the past, and we hope to speed up the rule-making process.
Q What broke this thing? Why did it happen now?
MS. KAMARCK: I think there were a couple things. I think one was the action of the DOT and the FAA on going forward with these two rule-makings after many years, so they knew that, okay, there was time. I think secondly was the leadership of the President and the Vice President.
And these airlines have seen evidence of what we call new regulatory models in customs in particular. Many of these airlines are part of our new operation in customs in Miami, so they had come to have some belief that if they, in fact, got out of their adversarial mode with their regulators and got into some cooperative partnerships on rule-making and other things that maybe there would be benefits for them. So they are now looking to try to do business in a new way.
Q Why isn't TWA on the list?
MS. KAMARCK: I don't know if they're a member of this group. That's probably why. This organization -- or you better ask Carol Hallett that. I mean, these were Carol Hallett's airlines and maybe they just couldn't come. I just don't know.
Q Elaine, are you saying the industry now supports the suppression devices?
MS. KAMARCK: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the industry has agreed with us that they will try and work in a cooperative manner with FAA on what they see as significant technological problems that need to be worked out on the suppression devices. And so what we're hoping is that this will move faster than it would have ordinarily.
Q Elaine, do you have any rough cost on suppression installation? Have you reached that point?
MS. KAMARCK: No, you better ask the ATA about that.
Q Secondly, what impact -- had these smoke detectors been aboard the ValuJet, what impact would it have had in that incident?
MS. KAMARCK: That is difficult to say. We can say for sure that a fire detector in the cargo hold would have given the ValuJet pilot more warning than he had that something was wrong. The NTSB is not prepared to say, though, whether that absolutely would have prevented the accident. I think part of it is that they're having -- they don't know exactly when the fire began. But certainly more warning.
Q Elaine, how long will it take to install these devices in all 3,700 planes?
MS. KAMARCK: I think we can get a bunch of them done in '97. One thing that I learned in the course of this is that putting a smoke detector in a plane is not like buying one of those plastic things and putting it up in your house. You have to complete an engineering study.
Q A couple of years?
MS. KAMARCK: Oh, no, no. The engineering -- you have to complete the engineering studies and then submit them to FAA for approval to make sure that when you install the systems you're not messing up the avionics of the airplane. FAA will turn these around as quickly as they possibly can. And we actually expect that they will start installing them early in 1997.
Q When will it be completed?
MS. KAMARCK: Nobody has a good estimate of that. But because this is sort of -- I mean, they're not going to ground the entire American -- remember, those people up there carry like 95 percent of all passengers. So they're not going to ground them all at once to do this retrofitting. So I think that they will sort of work through their fleet, and we'll see as fast as it can get done. But I don't have a real date on that.
Q When you say a hundred -- out of how many?
MS. KAMARCK: There's somewhere over 4,000 planes represented by these airlines. The remainder are new airplanes, and the newer airplanes actually have the fire detection and fire suppression systems built into them. So this is a matter of putting these things in older planes.
Q How many planes, though, are not represented by these airlines? How many airplanes are not represented by these airlines and, therefore, are not subject to this voluntary plan?
MS. KAMARCK: The commuter airlines are not represented by here, and Valujet is not represented here, and a couple of the other smaller carriers. But, basically, the people you saw there carry 95 percent of the flying public, so we're covering most of the commercial public.
Q Do you know the number of planes -- total number of planes?
MS. KAMARCK: I actually had that, but -- wait, let me see if I have it in my notes. It's four thousand and something, I do remember that, but I can't remember exactly, off hand. No, they didn't put it in here. But I have it in my office sometime and you can call me and get the exact numbers.
Q The $400 million price tag that Vice President Gore spoke about, what does that include?
MS. KAMARCK: Well, it includes the engineering studies to get approval by the FAA, which is not that much. It includes the actual work of the installation, and it includes the time lost from the airplane flying to ground it to install the system, test the system, et cetera.
Q Will passengers be paying this through higher ticket prices?
MS. KAMARCK: Ask them.
Q Well, did they give you any commitment to not pass it on?
MS. KAMARCK: No, we did not talk about that.
Q Were all members of ATA committed to this, or just those who were represented today?
MS. KAMARCK: All members of -- this is an ATA action, so all the members of ATA are committed to this. And I'm sorry I can't tell you off the top of my head exactly what their membership is, but I'm sure they will --
Q Isn't there an FAA regulation in the works that would require this anyway?
MS. KAMARCK: Yes, absolutely. But here's, I think, for us the important part of today's announcement: There has been an FAA regulation in the works for almost a decade on this. And it has been repeatedly stopped. And, frankly, today we are interested in starting a new era with the industry and with the regulators, and so we're not interested in casting blame on who's held this up. What we're seeing today, though, is a turnaround in ATA's traditional position on this, which has been against it, and a sort of new attitude of going forward in a cooperative way with the FAA to, in fact, speed up many of these safety recommendations.
Q Foreign carriers are not affected by this?
MS. KAMARCK: No, we don't govern foreign carriers.
Q Even if they land in the United States?
Q Valujet is not represented today. How much farther down the road will they be required to do it under the normal regulatory process?
MS. KAMARCK: Well, one of the -- you mean the airlines not represented? One of the good things about today's announcement is that it will significantly speed up the regulatory process.
Q For these airlines?
MS. KAMARCK: No, no, no, the actual regulatory process, which will go forward. And so with these airlines, which are the big guys, removed from lobbying against it and, in fact, helping the rule-making go forward, by submitting the engineering studies and working out the technical problems I think we will see this rule much, much faster. We certainly will not wait another decade for this rule. And once the rule is in place, then, of course, it will apply to all airlines.
Q -- official timetable in place? It's not in place yet then?
MS. KAMARCK: No, no.
Q Why isn't Valujet here? Are they a member --
MS. KAMARCK: They're not a member of this.
Q But for Valujet, the rule-making will --
MS. KAMARCK: Oh, for Valujet the rule-making will solve this -- I mean, once the rule's done it will cover everybody.
Q Some people in this room want to know if the White House press charters will be included? (Laughter.)
MS. KAMARCK: I don't think I can answer that, but maybe Mike can. Actually, they're run by the Air Force.
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no.
MS. KAMARCK: Oh, press charters.
MR. MCCURRY: To the degree that the White House Travel Office contracts with carriers represented here, they would be.
MS. KAMARCK: That's right.
Q How are you defining newer models that are not affected?
MS. KAMARCK: New models of airplanes?
Q Yes. You said newer models already have this.
MS. KAMARCK: Yes.
Q But from date going forward?
MS. KAMARCK: Oh, ask the airlines. I don't know when they started building -- or ask Boeing. They're the people who build the airplanes around here.
Q Elaine, one more question. Can you tell us, whenever people come here for any kind of events, we usually have heard from the participants. In this case, we didn't hear from them at the event and we didn't hear from them outside. Do you know why, since it was their initiative, why we didn't hear from any of them?
MS. KAMARCK: The reason is that this is in the middle of their annual board meeting, so we were happy to get them over here. We squeezed this in, and they've got to go finish a lot of business. I am sure that these guys will be happy to talk to you.
Q Not really.
MS. KAMARCK: Well, no, I mean, they won't right now. But I'm sure if you call -- I mean, I'm sure if you call their office or call the ATA, they'll answer a lot of these questions.
MR. MCCURRY: Other questions, yes?
Q Mike, what do you think the impact of this initiative by the White House in this area will have on your efforts to get a new FAA administrator confirmed? Prior to this, there's the prospect of a real battle between Congress and the White House on any nominee given so many of these issues are still outstanding.
MR. MCCURRY: We would expect to send an eminently qualified and fully confirmable nominee for that post forward.
Q Do you think this will help, what you're doing here today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think it would help or hurt. I think it would -- the merits of the nomination would be considered by the Senate as the Senate sees fit.
Q Mike, just a follow-up to my question to Vice President Gore. It's one thing -- like I said, it's another thing to know that there's a fire; it's another thing to be able to put it out at 10,000 feet.
MR. MCCURRY: You had the person here who could have helped you on that.
Q Mike, District finances obviously are heating up with the reports in the papers today and the report coming that they want a billion-dollar bailout essentially of the city and for the federal government to take over major elements of the social programs in the city. Can we expect any type of endorsement or anything today on this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will be delighted, of course, to get the report of the Control Board. It's, obviously, a very important group related to the future of the District, doing the strategic planning for the District that is obviously necessary.
On our end, we continue to work on a wide range of proposals with regard to how the federal government could better assist the District both in the short-term and in the long-term. We've got a lot of proposals now that are being looked at by the President's D.C. Task Force, which is the interagency group that OMB Director Frank Raines heads up. And they are looking specifically at ideas for possible inclusion in the President's fiscal 1998 budget proposal. So I wouldn't say they've made any final decisions, but obviously the input of the report of the D.C. Control Board will be useful.
Q Can I ask two follow-ups? One -- the Fed's already ponied up about a little over half a billion every year. What's the chances that that would be doubled?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to step on Frank Raines prerogatives. I think that they are looking at budget proposals. they're carefully studying the question of federal support for the District and what's necessary to get the job done. I think you correctly suggested doubling is -- in the budget environment we're in, it would be difficult. But at the same time, the needs are great in the District and we know that. And that's why the task force has been very carefully reviewing the need so we can make a proper assessment and a proper proposal for the President to submit to Congress.
Q Just one last one. Davis, the Chairman of the D.C. Committee, has said that they'll look at the Control Board's report, but they want to see Berry and they want to see other city officials come forward with some real cuts. They want to see them do something first before any commitment is made for more money. Would that be your position?
MR. MCCURRY: If I'm not mistaken, the Mayor has under consideration some $85 million worth of cuts that is, if not part of this overall strategic plan, at least under consideration.
Q The old plan.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's in the old plan, and we will see today in the new plan. But just as the federal government is looking for ways to more prudently manage resources, the District government, obviously, too, will have to more prudently manage resources in the environment we're in.
Q This kind of dovetails on Paul's questions. In the past year the Speaker of the House held town meetings in the District and things of that nature. Do you expect the President to be taking a more active and visible and direct role in District affairs?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I do. And I've said that before. I expect he will be doing that in the course of the next four years while he's here, and we'll be advising you how that will happen.
Q Mike, will you have a formal determination on Janet Reno's future by the end of the day?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt that. The President is finishing some of the sessions that he plans with his Cabinet members today and tomorrow. He did have a very good conversation with the Attorney General Tuesday night. He called to wish her well for her oral argumentation in the Court yesterday, which I gather went very well, and they had a good conversation. But they will have another opportunity to talk sometime today or tomorrow.
Q What time is that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing scheduled right now -- today or tomorrow sometime.
Q Have you looked into documents reported in the Washington Times about John Huang's supposed conflict of interest in working with an advocacy group while he was at Commerce?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not, no. I'll have to check with Lanny Davis on that.
Q On the Washington Post story today about Tony Lake's stock deal, do you have any quarrel with the basic facts as they're laid out in the story?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any quarrel with the basic numbers, but one thing I would point out, the question obviously is, was there any material gain to Tony for holding the stock. And the answer is manifestly no. Had he sold the stock and invested the proceeds from the sale, which was estimated at $280,000, put them in a passbook savings account, he would have ended up making more money than he finally made on the sale when he sold them in May 1995, discovering that those stocks hadn't been sold. The stock basically only did about half of the Standard & Poor's Index. He could have put the same proceeds in a stock index fund and would have made almost double what he made on the transaction involved.
What happened is very clear and was clear as the White House reviewed this during the vetting process for Tony. He thought he had sold these stocks when he was advised by the Legal Counsel that he would be best advised to sell them. And when he discovered, after being alerted by the Legal Counsel's Office in June of 1995 that they had not been sold, he sold them immediately. And the President was aware of those facts and does not consider anything about that disqualifying, as he just indicated.
Q Mike, you all were concerned in terms of keeping that stock that he might decisions that might impact the industry. Has any review been done of what decisions were made during that interim?
MR. MCCURRY: It's clear from the record that Tony thought he no longer owned the stocks. And, in any event, Tony Lake, you all know him as not the kind of -- he's a person of unsurpassed integrity, character, and is not the kind of person who would even consider making any decision that would impact on his own personal finances. But the reason for the Government Ethics Act is so that there is not even the appearance of conflict. It's clear here that there was an unintentional failure to sell some stocks that should have been sold. And once he discovered that they had not been sold, he sold them.
Q Is the resignation of Jack Quinn a surprise?
MR. MCCURRY: It was a surprise to us. I mean, a lot of us knew -- a lot of us spent time talking about families and the needs of our families and how the job here sometimes conflicts with that. And I think a lot of us knew that Jack was missing his family. But his letter of resignation, which we will make available to you, which is quite poignant and very personal, talks about his obligations to his small children, the needs of his older children, who are getting ready to go to college, and the financial burden that will place on Jack's family. The President, while he was very disappointed to see Jack submit the resignation and had a very heart-felt conversation with him last night on that subject, at the same time said that he would not stand in the way of someone who for very good, personal family reasons needs to make a transition.
Q When is it effective?
MR. MCCURRY: He will make it effective upon the designation of a successor, but he would like to leave by mid-February. So he'll be in a position to assist in the very important work he's now doing, overseeing the review of candidates for appointment by the President.
Q What will Lake be able to say to Specter's criticism that he gave the go-ahead for the Iranians to supply arms to Bosnia? Is he responsible for that or is the President?
MR. MCCURRY: That has been one of the most thoroughly reviewed episodes in our diplomacy with respect to Bosnia. There's no matter connected with that effort to help the Bosnian government protect itself that is unknown to members of the committee. It's been fully explored. There have been extensive reports done it. There was a report done by the Intelligence Oversight Board as well -- right, David? David, the Intelligence Oversight Board also did a review of the instructions question?
MR. JOHNSON: Yes.
MR. MCCURRY: So this as a matter has been thoroughly reviewed and I think reviewed to the satisfaction of most members of the Senate. And we'll see where it goes.
Q Why do you think he's bringing it up?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, because given his position on arming and equipping and training the Bosnians, it is -- there's a pattern of logic there that I think he would have to explain to you because I certainly can't explain it -- a train of logic there.
Q Do you have any reaction to this LA Times article saying the U.S. is planning retaliatory strikes against Iran because of the bombing in Dhahran?
MR. MCCURRY: There's investigation underway, as I told you yesterday. The President would not be in a position to consider any steps that would arise as a consequence of that investigation until the investigation reaches conclusions. Since there are no conclusions, there are no steps for the President to consider.
Q When do you expect conclusions?
MR. MCCURRY: In due course, subject to the law enforcement legal standards that we would meticulously apply to a question so important.
Q As a matter of policy, though, if it did turn out that a country did sponsor terrorism against U.S. soldiers overseas, would you expect the U.S. to respond?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has already made clear that we will respond to a grievous act like this against the United States. But that is entirely hypothetical absent any conclusions in this investigation.
Q But would the Pentagon, as a normal matter, go ahead with contingency plans to retaliate even in advance of conclusions being reached?
MR. MCCURRY: If the Pentagon does not have contingency plans to cover virtually any other, any possible, imaginable event anywhere in the world for the time foreseeable I would be quite surprised. I think that's what military planners do. I wouldn't read too much into, just as the L.A. Times does not in the article -- would not read too much into the kind of contingency planning that happens all the time for all types of contingency. That is why they call it contingency.
Q This is a non sequitur, but does the President have any power to intervene in D.C. government? The fact that people now think it's a war zone in this capital and that it's a disgrace to the nation --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I strongly object to the characterization of our Nation's Capital of that. There are problems in the District that everyone acknowledges, and, yes, the President does have a task force appointed to address those problems and to come up with some reasonable solutions.
Q He does have power to intervene in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: He has, as President, and as perhaps the premier resident of the District, he has the opportunity to help address the problems that the city faces, and that's what he's doing.
Q Do you anticipate any personnel announcements today?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q What about tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a press conference at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow and --
Q Is that official, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: At 2:00 p.m., Eastern time, Room 450 in the Old EOB.
Q Will the President open it up with some personnel announcements?
MR. MCCURRY: He will make a statement at the beginning and we will try to make it newsworthy. (Laughter.)
Q On Reno?
Q Does that mean he's going to make any appointments?
Q Can you tell us just if it's not decided yet?
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, I know you will be there at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow, so I know you will interested in what he has to say.
Q Are you going to brief?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I am right now and I don't see a need to do it later. I have nothing else to add beyond this. Anybody have a strong need for it? Why don't we just call this the briefing for the day.
Q Do you have a drug briefing?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, that's right. We've got Barry McCaffrey at -- yes, Barry McCaffrey was coming in at -- what time are we doing that, 1:00 p.m.? About 1:00 p.m., after the conclusion of this meeting. I'll let him hold forth, and then if anyone has a real burning question you can pop it. But I will consider this the briefing for the day.
Q Did you address the Reno meeting question?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Obliquely. Okay, see you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:18 A.M. EST