THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY CHIEF OF STAFF-DESIGNATE ERSKINE BOWLES
The Briefing Room
1:38 P.M. EST
MR. BOWLES: Good afternoon. As I said last month, the White House staff can best serve the President by providing an atmosphere of focus, coordination, and teamwork. Our job in the White House is to offer the President both advice and information, to implement his decisions in an orderly fashion, and to conduct ourselves in a way that reflects the deepest values and highest standards of the American people.
I have set about to build a team, and I want to stress that word, team -- a team with sharp minds, but not sharp elbows. (Laughter.) A team that will make every effort to continue the progress made by this President and this administration over the last four years.
Today I am quite pleased to announce that I have asked John Podesta and Sylvia Mathews to serve as Assistants to the President and Deputy Chiefs of Staff; and Victoria Radd to serve as Assistant to the President and my Chief of Staff. These three individuals will have four core rolls; they will act to advance the agenda of the President, they will speak with the authority of the Chief of Staff; they will cultivate in the skilled individuals who work here a sense of teamwork and order without blunting the force of their creative ideas; and most importantly, they will work with the President and the Chief of Staff to ensure that the White House works in an efficient and effective manner for the American people.
Having previously worked with both John and Sylvia, I know that they are, by both their talents and their temperament, ideally suited to be Deputy Chiefs of Staff -- after all, for 16 months, I was one. (Laughter.)
John Podesta is well-known to most of you in this room. He served with real distinction as President Clinton's first Staff Secretary. He has been chief counsel on a Senate committee. He has run a successful small business, which matters to me in no small amount. And he is a veteran of many national campaigns and causes. John currently is serving as Visiting Law Professor at Georgetown University. John's quick mind, his unerring judgment, his deep knowledge of both policy and politics, will be invaluable in guiding the course of this administration. I will be very happy to once again have John Podesta by my side.
Sylvia Mathews, currently Chief of Staff of the U.S. Treasury Department, is truly one of the most remarkable young people in America. Her high intellect and strong people skills have taken this young woman from the small towns of Hinton, West Virginia, to a Rhodes Scholarship and service in two presidential campaigns, and as a Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. She has a real gift for organization and has been a dynamic leader and successful manager for the U.S. Treasury Department and its 153,000 employees.
I remember sitting in a meeting one day in the Oval Office with the President, Secretary Rubin and Sylvia Mathews. Several times during that meeting, Sylvia passed Bob a note and Secretary Rubin subsequently said something that was really quite brilliant. (Laughter.) I finally turned to the President and said, I believe I've broke the code. (Laughter.) I told him if I could get Sylvia Mathews to sit next to me and pass me notes, pretty soon some of you out there might believe I'm as smart as Bob Rubin. Well, now she is and, hopefully, you will. (Laughter.)
Together, John and Sylvia will have line authority for all essential White House operations, and in exercising that authority they will be both firm and fair.
To round out my management team I have asked Victoria Radd to serve as Assistant to the President and my Chief of Staff. Vicki was a partner at the law firm of Williams and Connolly, she served as an associate counsel to the President for the selection and confirmation of judges, and Deputy Director of White House Communications.
Most recently, Vicki worked with me to coordinate the President's debate preparations, a perfect example of Vicki's remarkable success. She did 90 percent of the work and I got 90 percent of the credit. Well, let me assure you, in the future she'll still do 90 percent of the work, but she's going to get all the credit. She will manage my staff, advise me on policy and political issues, and assist in overseeing the day to day operations of the White House. Vicki has long been one of the brightest stars in this White House. She's a talented lawyer, a skilled organizer and a savvy advisor.
Q Why do you need a Chief of Staff? (Laughter.)
MR. BOWLES: You know, that's what every good executive does, they surround themselves with enough good people that they do the work and the work gets done on time and done right. My office will clearly be in good hands with Vicki Radd.
I am also happy to announce that one of the President's closest and most trusted advisors will become Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy and Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff -- clearly, the longest title in the administration. Rahm Emanuel, as much as any other single person in this administration, has been responsible for the enactment of our anticrime, welfare reform, and immigration reform measures. Rahm also played an absolutely pivotal role in the successful passage of NAFTA.
What I've always admired about Rahm Emanuel is that he gets things done, he gets them done on time, and he gets them done right. In other words, Rahm Emanuel gets results. And I expect him to produce even greater results in the future than he has in the past.
I should add in conclusion in my discussions about Rahm that while George has agreed to give Rahm his office and his title, he has not agreed to part with either his fan club or his book royalties. (Laughter.)
It also gives me pleasure to announce that Doug Sosnik will become counselor to the President. As White House political director, Doug was a key strategist in the President's reelection victory. In this new role he will oversee the President's political operation, be involved with the planning for the future, and continue to work with outreach as he did in the campaign.
Over the last four years Doug has won the respect and trust of the President for his talent as a political strategist, for his common sense and his winning personality. As a fellow North Carolinian, I look forward to working with him in his new role here at the White House.
Finally, I am pleased to announce two appointments to complete the senior ranks of the President's foreign policy team here at the White House. At the recommendation of Sandy Berger, the President will appoint Jim Steinberg as Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. He will also appoint Brigadier General Donald Kerrick as Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
Jim Steinberg is currently Chief of Staff of the U.S. State Department and Director of its policy-planning staff. Previously, Jim has been a leading public servant and policy advisor in the U.S. Congress and at prominent research institutions. Jim has been central to the foreign policy of this administration and he will bring to this new job both practical know-how and a broad vision of how America can continue to lead in the world ahead.
General Kerrick is a soldier and a statesman in the finest traditions of public service. Currently a senior official of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the General previously served on the NSC staff as a Director of European Affairs. He has had a distinguished military career, including service on the Joint Staff and deployment during Desert Storm. Last year he was a principal negotiator on the Bosnia peace mission that secured the Dayton Agreement ending the war in Bosnia.
In his new job, General Kerrick will assist the National Security Advisor in managing the daily operations of the NSC staff and in developing and directing national security policy.
Q While Mr. Berger is up there, is there any update he can give us on the situation in Peru, what the U.S. is trying to do to assist --
MR. BERGER: I have very little to add to what you know. The situation is ongoing. We are in continuing contact with the Peruvian government, with the Japanese government and other governments affected. This is a matter in the first instance for the people on the ground to handle, but we are in very close contact with them. And I think it would be inappropriate at this point for me to comment on any details.
Q Is the U.S. going to send in a hostage rescue team, any kind of support? Is the U.S. willing to do whatever it takes to help here?
MR. BERGER: I'm not -- I'm simply, at this stage in a delicate situation, I think you'll understand that it would serve no useful purpose for me to get into details.
Q How many Americans are being held?
MR. BERGER: Again, in this situation I'm simply not going to comment on details, on whether any Americans are being held. It's not useful at this stage in terms of what we hope to be a peaceful resolution to the matter.
Q An FBI agent has been arrested on charges of espionage for Russia, the second such case in only a few weeks. What does this say about U.S.-Russian relations?
MR. BERGER: I believe that the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI are going to have a press conference soon to address that. I think I'd prefer to let them address it initially.
Q But they're not going to talk about the policy implications for U.S. policy towards Russia.
MR. BERGER: And neither am I at this stage. (Laughter.)
Q When does the new staff take over, and what's the first order of business?
MR. BOWLES: The new staff takes over January 20th. Some will take their positions before that as people depart the administration, but most of the new responsibilities will take forward on January 20th. And we really have two goals: one is teamwork, and the other is accountability. And that's what we'll be working to do.
Q Will Mack McLarty stay on in his current role at the White House or is he going to be making a transition?
MR. BOWLES: Mack will continue to have an involvement in Latin America. We'll be making some announcements about that in the future.
Q How about the new Cabinet, when will that be announced?
MR. BOWLES: We'll make some additional announcements on Friday, and hopefully, perhaps we'll be able to do most of them on Friday. We may do a few after that. But we continue to be on plan.
Q You may not be ready to announce anything yet, but do you foresee any changes in the Press Office staffing or operations?
MR. BOWLES: No.
Q Erskine, Harold Ickes and George I think both had -- were identified within the White House and outside as ambassadors to traditionally liberal groups in the Democratic community. Do you see somebody in this new lineup as fulfilling that role?
MR. BOWLES: First of all, I feel very comfortable myself in dealing with people of all persuasions. But I think John and Sylvia are clearly going to be well-accepted by people who call themselves liberals, so I don't have any concern about that at all.
Q Beyond the internal goals of teamwork and accountability you just mentioned, what do you see as your primary domestic policy goal as you head into the first year of the second term?
MR. BOWLES: Easy answer. We're going to focus on a balanced -- just like the President said at the DLC speech, we're going to focus on this balanced budget and a balanced budget that protects the President's priorities. We're going to focus on campaign finance reform. We're going to focus on education. And we hope to come forward with a strong juvenile justice bills. Those are the kinds of things that we plan to work on in the days ahead.
Q Even when you don't get campaign -- while you're working on getting campaign finance reform, are you working on any proposals to modify the President's own activities in campaign fundraising and, perhaps, open them up to greater scrutiny before it becomes a matter of law? He continues to, as you know, attend closed fundraisers. We find out very little about the money that is being raised in places where he goes. We find that people who give big money apparently are invited to sleep here at the White House and that the DNC is able to provide lists of people who they want entertained here simply because they're big donors. Does this trouble you in any way and do you have any plans to reform any of this internally?
MR. BOWLES: I've really spent my time since I have come back about six weeks ago focusing on the transition and trying to make sure that we have the right people in place. As we go forward we'll try to make sure we have the right policies and procedures in place in order to manage the White House in an efficient and effective manner.
The President -- the time I have spent focused on campaign finance reform, we have really been focusing just on that, on campaign finance reform and how both sides, both Republicans and Democrats, could work together to make sure we have the proper reforms in place.
Q Well, won't you be facing a lot of investigations? I mean, you're not off the hook on this, it's a daily story that's growing and growing. Don't you have some trepidation about that?
MR. BOWLES: I really don't. I don't have any trepidation about it at all. If there have been mistakes made in the past, then we plan to acknowledge those mistakes. We plan to go forward, to put in the proper procedures in the future so that we don't repeat some of the mistakes that have been made in the past.
Q Don't you think that if the President really wants campaign finance reform that he ought to set some kind of example by perhaps not attending closed fundraisers?
MR. BOWLES: I think it's -- it's almost impossible for one side to unilaterally disarm in a case like this. This President has been very clear since his first campaign that he wants campaign finance reform. He's talked long and hard about having real campaign limits on how much you spend. He's talked a lot about having free TV and making it available to particular candidates. He's talked about bans on soft money. He's talked about these external groups that come in and bring so much money, the special interest groups that bring money to the campaigns.
So I think we're going to make sure that we have a process put together, we have a team in place that's working on a proposal on campaign finance reform. And I think we'll come forward with a bill that makes real sense.
Q Talking about mistakes, was one of those mistakes allowing a man to -- that the White House has known for months, brought in two manilla envelopes filled with questionable checks -- to allow him to come to a reception just last Friday and visit privately with the President?
MR. BOWLES: I'm sorry, I'm just not up to speed on that situation. I read about it this morning, that's all I know about it.
Q Erskine, apart from the emphasis on teamwork, what sort of statement or theme do you hope the selection of these people and their collective resumes and various, you know, distinguished past achievements is meant to make to the American public? What's the stamp that you're trying to put on this White House staff and what is the message, what's the headline word for this staff of yours?
MR. BOWLES: You know, what I hope, we will be a real team, that there will be real accountability and that people will believe that this team put together will move the agenda of this President forward in an efficient and effective manner; and that you will judge us based on our accomplishments -- in other words, hold us accountable. The President is going to talk about what his goals and objectives are. He's going to talk about those. He started at the DLC speech. He'll talk about them at the inauguration. He'll talk them about them at the State of the Union. And then what I hope is that you will hold this team accountable for accomplishing those goals.
Q Are you making a comparison with the current team? I know you're not given to self-deprecation, but this first team -- you keep emphasizing teamwork and accountability. Didn't the first four years have that?
MR. BOWLES: Oh, I think it did. But anytime you have a change in leadership you have to put together a new team that can work together. What I hope to do is build on the accomplishments of the last team. I think Leon Panetta will go down as one of the great Chiefs of Staff this country has ever had. He provided extraordinary leadership. I think I was very fortunate to have a chance to work for him for a 16-month period. I had a chance to learn a lot from Leon and I'm glad he was here. And he set in place a lot of appropriate procedures that will make it much easier for us to go forward.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EST