THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:53 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start with -- I mentioned to some of you earlier today that NATO Secretary General Javier Solana was here at the White House earlier today. He's been in town meeting with Secretary Christopher, Secretary Perry and others. He had a meeting for almost an hour today with the Vice President and the President dropped in for a portion of the meeting. He also met with Sandy Berger -- I guess Sandy was at that meeting. He met with Sandy yesterday and Sandy was at the meeting as well as Deputy Secretary Talbott.
He is a fairly frequent visitor here. We have a great deal on our NATO agenda as we look ahead to 1997, as we anticipate the July summit that will deal with the future of NATO and its adaptation to the new possibilities of a united, integrated Europe.
So obviously, the opportunity to share views with the Secretary General was a welcome one. The timing of this particular visit is related to Solana's upcoming trip to Moscow to meet Foreign Minister Primakov. That's really part of the discussion of the NATO-Russian Federation charter that you've heard us talk about in the past, and the importance of those discussions to the United States is underscored by the very active diplomacy we've had underway with not only our Alliance partners, but also with the Russian Federation itself, related to the particular elements of a charter. I think many of you might have heard Secretary-designate Albright testify on the importance of that document yesterday.
That's about all on that. Several people had asked about the condition of President Yeltsin and I'm told that our embassy doesn't have any additional information that we can provide on the condition of President Yeltsin, but we are following the press accounts and the statements that his doctors and government spokespeople are making. And I did want to alert you to the fact that the President had sent a get-well note to him overnight that was no doubt received in Moscow probably today, just wishing -- sending President Yeltsin the best wishes of the President and Mrs. Clinton for a speedy recovery.
Q Mike, is there any thought that his illness will delay or affect the timing of their meeting, their summit?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have any indication of that at this point.
Q Mike, this 300-page report that Fabiani and DNC put together -- what was the purpose of it? Why would the White House waste its time putting together this "media food chain" theory?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a waste of time. We were actually responding to requests. This is the document we gave, Wolf, CNN back in 1995, so you've had it for about over a year now. (Laughter.) About every news organization in this room, in fact, we've provided these materials because we wanted to refute some of the very aggressive charges being made fallaciously against the President, most often on the Internet coming from a variety of kind of crazy, right-wing sources.
Now, what you're talking about is, in fact, a two-and-a-half page cover sheet attached to about 300-plus pages of information, most of them news clips written by news organizations represented in this room, and also that the DNC research staff prepared and passed out at press conferences that most of your news organizations attended.
Q Let me see if I can clear something up. Does this purport to show a conspiracy on the part of the news media?
MR. MCCURRY: No, absolutely not. It purports to show that the conspiracy theorists who are very active on the subject of Whitewater and other subjects very often plant their stories, plant their information in various places, and then we kind of give you a theory of how things get picked up and translated and moved through what we call "the media food chain," or what others have called "the media food chain." A good example of this: the Wall Street editorial page carries a column that mentions this deep, dark secret 330-page report that then gets picked up by The Washington Times and written, and then gets asked here in the press briefing room. So, in other words, in this Fellini-like manner, what we are doing right now is proof positive of the kind of cycle that we're talking about.
Q So you're employing the very tactics that you say the right-wing think-tanks employ to get stories in the mainstream media?
MR. MCCURRY: You're suggesting that we planted this in the Wall Street Journal editorial page so we could draw some attention to the material that we're using to refute some of the fallacious charges. That's an interesting theory. I don't know that I buy that theory.
Q Like what, what particularly? What are the fallacious charges?
MR. MCCURRY: They talk about stuff about some of the work of a couple of so-called "media centers," a couple of wealthy philanthropists that subsidize the work of organizations that present themselves as news organizations -- they write stories, they get picked up elsewhere on the Internet. Sometimes they get picked up overseas, typically in London, typically by one particular reporter, that stuff then gets fed back into news organizations here. There's one news organization here in town that likes to -- they won't attach their own bylines and their own names of their own reporters to the stories they write, but they'll pick up stories, they'll put them in their pages here, and then that triggers additional inquiries.
So what they did was, they basically took -- in response to inquiries we got -- we got a lot of inquiries back in the summer of '95 on the general subject of how does the Internet -- the arrival of the Internet and discussions on the Internet, how does that fuel the Whitewater story. And, in fact, we used to get a lot of inquiries in Mark Fabiani's shop from news organizations that heard this story that they really want to check out and want a White House response to. And we say, wait a minute, this is the same crazy rumor that's now chased itself all the way around in a circle, and let us show you how this circle works so you can understand the genesis of some of these stories.
So this is an effort, I think, that dates back now almost July, August of 1995, an effort by Mark's shop to really help journalists understand that they shouldn't be used by those who are really concocting their own conspiracies and their own theories and then peddling them elsewhere.
Q Mike, let me see if I understand. You believe this is an accurate portrayal of the way the media food chain works? Is that correct? You believe this is an accurate description --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it is accurate to say that there area lot of groups that fund -- groups that are positioned on the far right of the political spectrum that fund people who peddle conspiracy theories, and that those then sometimes show up in publications that represent themselves to be bonified sources of news; that those then get picked up on the Internet; people start recycling the material on the Internet; that sometimes we have instances -- and we've had several just recently of one particular reporter, one particular paper in London who writes things that are just not true; in fact, in one case just recently who had to be formally retracted -- that that then gets picked up and reprinted here in the United States and then becomes the basis of inquiries that some of you make here. So, in a sense, you get misled and misused by people who really start off as -- with the goal of actually planting information to do political damage to the President.
Q With all due respect, I don't think I got an answer to my question, which is, do you believe this is an accurate portrayal of --
MR. MCCURRY: Do I believe what I just said is an accurate portrayal of how this works? Yes.
Q No, no, do you believe this report prepared at taxpayer expense is an accurate portrayal of --
MR. MCCURRY: Whoa, whoa, this was not a report prepared at tax -- this was a two-and-a-half page cover memo that went on DNC clippings. Most of this -- if you take a look at it -- and again, I think most of your news organizations have had this material for sometime now, but it's basically a compilation of newspaper clippings that have appeared in the pages of many of the organizations represented here, other materials, other samples of materials that have existed on the Internet, plus materials that the DNC research staff prepared to refute some of the fallacious charges that have been made against the President.
Now, what we did -- what the Counsel's Office did here was to just put a little two-and-a-half page summary on the top of this thing so you could see how it worked.
Q Do you believe that summary is accurate?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that summary provides -- that's the material -- it supports the material -- it explains and describes the material that is attached to it, sure. It's a summary. I believe it's a summary of the material that is attached to it.
Q Why wouldn't you respond -- you're saying this is in response to news media inquiries in the summer of '95 -- whose idea was it to respond in this fashion, to compile it like this? Was it Fabiani? Was it somebody else?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was his shop that did this. He actually had one of his more junior staffers do this who was familiar with the Internet. What had happened at the time, we began to see a correlation between inquiries coming in from journalists and rumors that were being circulated on the Internet. And so the causal link, there was we'd better pay closer attention to stuff that's creeping out on to the Internet because it's beginning to seep into inquiries that are coming from legitimate news organizations. They hear something; they then ask what our response is. And then our concern was that the material was phony, that was showing up on the Internet was going to get recycled into stories that said White House denies x, and x was a rumor to begin with in some cases. And we document that in the material -- material that came from the far right.
Your paper, in particular -- and we gave the Washington Post this back in July of '95. So you've had this same document now for some --
Q Is it the exact same document or just portions of the document?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- no, the document.
Q All 331 pages?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the 331 pages -- again, I'll tell you it's this two-and-a-half page cover sheet attached to clips. Now, much of it is clippings that came from some of the same news organizations that we provided it to. But to show by the coverage -- how the coverage of the Whitewater story itself unfolded and how that -- how various news sources manipulated things.
Q And James Carville was the one who first spoke of this -- at least publicly -- of this media food chain a year earlier.
MR. MCCURRY: Back in April of '94, right.
Q So he came up with this theory by himself? Carville?
MR. MCCURRY: He -- there are a lot of people who have talked about this, a lot of people who have written about it. In fact, there's now been a couple of scholars who have done papers on how this all works. There's a scholarly paper I read not too long ago that was done at some conference, as journalists look into how these things have been covered.
Q You folks have always denied that there's a bunker mentality here, paranoia regarding Whitewater and these other issues. Isn't that exactly what this looks like -- here are our enemies who are out to get us?
MR. MCCURRY: No. This doesn't say enemies, it says --it describes, Warren, pretty accurately how things were, of which, admittedly, your news organization plays a role.
Q Well, how would you suggest a reporter find out about, or pursue a rumor or a report, even if it comes from the Internet, if not asking it here?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in this case they call the Counsel's Office; the Counsel's Office says, hey, wait a minute, before you legitimize this rumor by putting it in print in your paper, take a look at how this information circles, chases itself around in a circle; so let us show you how these things spill over and become stories before you write. And in many cases, I think it's fair to say we prevented erroneous information from being reported and we saved some journalists from not putting a lot of crazy stuff --
Q That's why the journalists ask. And if they get a denial here --
MR. MCCURRY: And that's -- and we help them understand it. I mean, the notion that it's a bunker mentality is -- basically, we're responding to inquiries we're getting with the information that refutes the charges and answers the charges that have been made.
Q Mike, in a cover story this week, Newsweek suggests that the White House employed those tactics you describe, too, in the other direction, in its favor, to discourage reporters from covering what was a legitimate story -- the Paula Jones lawsuit. In this case, you had Carville go out with statements about trailer parks, then friendly reporters picked it up, then you sent reporters those statements. And their suggestion is that then they were steered away from stories that probably were legitimate. Do you think that's --
MR. MCCURRY: Quote, unquote "legitimacy" of that story will depend, of course, on what happens in a court of law.
Q Well, it's before the Supreme Court tomorrow. I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: What happens in a court of law if and when the case goes to trial.
Q But we normally cover cases that are heard before the Supreme Court. My question is, do you think that piece in Newsweek is accurate, that the White House used these tactics that you're describing in the other direction?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that it's certainly true that the White House was aggressive in responding to false, fallacious, damaging and politically motivated attacks on the President. And we should be. We have a responsibility to the President to do that.
Q Mike, was the only purpose of this document to advise news organizations, or was it provided to anyone else -- staffers? Was it provided to contributors?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the people who are most familiar with it and who used it to respond to journalists recall using it mostly with journalists. I don't know -- a lot of the material was material that originated from the DNC, and it was used at the DNC and no doubt given to people who were out in the public defending the President from some of the charges he faced. They were pretty aggressive about getting people out particularly on talk radio and others to respond to some of the charges that the President was using. I'm sure the material circulated in that fashion, too. But it was used here and, frankly, with the Counsel's Office, it was to put a little summary sheet on the front so, knowing how busy all of you are, we thought we ought to make it a little easier for you to understand the big batch of clips that were provided.
Q Why didn't you provide it to everyone? Why wasn't it released as a White House document?
MR. MCCURRY: It may very well have been.
Q No, it wasn't.
MR. MCCURRY: It may very well have been provided to people -- I mean, it was provided to people who were working on the Whitewater story. I don't have a full list of every news organization that got it.
Q It was not made available to everyone who covered the White House on a daily basis.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was used in response to inquiries. I mean, we didn't do a formal release of this. We were trying to help people who were asking about stories that they had heard or rumors that they were checking out, and that's basically what it was. I'm told that anyone who asked about this stuff, we put the material together and sent it over to them. So maybe if you didn't ask about it, you didn't get it, but frankly, we weren't worried that you were then going to take a poisonous report and repeat it.
Q Has the President consulted with his attorney, Mr. Bennett, in advance of the argument before the Supreme Court on Monday in the Paula Jones case?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. You might want to ask Mr. Bennett.
Q Has the President spoken to any congressional leaders today, especially in regard to the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. He had some remarks earlier -- there's been a number of discussions about how we're going to prepare for the coming session of Congress, and he's had a couple of discussions with people here about some of the things we're hearing on the Hill. We've had people up on the Hill moving around and talking, and the President, as I think you know, is encouraged by some of the things we're hearing about the disposition of the new congressional leadership and their willingness to move ahead and address some of the budget priorities the President has articulated and, ultimately, to deal with the budget he'll submit on February 6th.
Q Just on the line of comments on both sides about the desire to move forward and to meet each other halfway, and I'm just wondering what else the President might be doing in the service of that goal in formal conversation, et cetera.
MR. MCCURRY: Making sure we say nothing to complicate that effort, making sure that we finish a budget that we think will demonstrate to the Congress that we're serious. You know, we're in the middle of a snowy, wintry day and one of the rituals of winter in Washington is that the White House sends to Congress a budget that's dead on arrival. This one we hope won't be. We hope that this one will be treated seriously. And when the Congress looks and sees the effort the President has made to accommodate some of the points that the Republican leadership has raised in discussions in the past, we hope that they will see that this is a credible effort to balance the budget by 2002 that meets the stipulations of some of the discussions that have been held in the past about that goal.
Q Is the President, though, making some last-minute revisions that might be more attractive to the Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: He's done some things in this budget that we hope will demonstrate the seriousness of his effort to balance the budget by a date-certain and his effort, as he said earlier today, to meet them halfway. Now, halfway is not a quantitative measure that you should then go and apply to specific functions in the budget, but at least it's an effort to demonstrate to the congressional leadership that we're serious.
Q Not everybody is as sanguine about the prospects for accommodation as the President. Domenici yesterday and today suggested that he's afraid the President's budget will be very similar to last year's and would not be acceptable. Does he not know what steps you've taken to meet him halfway? Have you not informed him -- is he going to be shocked on February 6th, or are you misrepresenting --
MR. MCCURRY: There will be a lot of public commentary. And as the President suggested earlier today, a lot of negotiations before we reach the goal of a balanced budget that's acceptable to the President and to the Congress. And there will be public statements that are, frankly, part of that negotiation because there's a public presentation of viewpoints that helps contribute to the negotiating positions that the executive and legislative branches bring to the table. We understand that.
I think the President and I would say by and large the leadership have attempted in their comments to create an environment in which accommodation and discussion and negotiation is possible, that it begins with, formally, the submission of a budget February 6th. We know there will be ample criticism of that document, we're expecting that. We just hope that people will not automatically declare it dead and that they will take a look at it and see it as a credible document, suggest amendments, begin the budget process that exists on the Hill, incorporate into that budget document ideas or proposals that the Congress wants the President to consider, and that we have a serious effort, in a bipartisan fashion, to balance the budget in a fashion that protects the investments we've got to make in the future -- in the future of America's retirees, in the future of efforts to protect the environment, and the kind of education programs the President talked about today that will help the economy grow in the future.
Q If I can follow -- is Domenici speaking from some knowledge of the budget based on the discussions?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's speaking from his perspective as someone who understands the politics of the budgetary process about as well as anyone on the Hill.
Q Mike, in the past when you've been asked and other officials have been asked about Medicare you've always said, well, the President had a proposal last year, we think that's adequate to do the short-term reform and that's what he's going to put in this budget. Is that still the case?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I'm foresworn -- the President himself did the same with you earlier -- foreswearing any commentary on the specifics in the budget so that we give it to the Congress and let the Congress see it. But you know our thinking on Medicare. You know the President's priorities when it comes to Medicare. You know his desire to keep that program solvent and recognize that we have to generate savings from Medicare. And I think that's the first page the Republicans will look to, and we hope that they see in those pages that we've tried to be serious in incorporating that element into the balanced budget plan.
But in any event, I can't -- beyond that, I'm not going to be specific.
Q I know, but last spring the President also said --I mean, he's always said he wants to preserve Medicare, but he's also said at one point that he would be open to the idea of means testing Medicare benefits for affluent recipients. Is he still open to that idea?
MR. MCCURRY: You're right, he said that back then.
Q Well, is he still open to it?
Q Mike --
Q What's the answer to that, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not going to -- look, I can't answer the question now because that's obviously a specific that will be addressed, if not in the budget, certainly in the course of the deliberations on the budget.
Q You're raising the possibility that he may allow premiums for well-to-do Medicare recipients go up.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm declining any comment on any specifics in the budget, and you'll just have to look at that item in February when we release the budget.
Q Senator Daschle today talked about a health care initiative for children that he believes has the support of the administration, whether it comes in the form of a voucher or a refundable tax credit. Is that something that would be advanced as part of the President's --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm shutting down now on specifics in the budget. It's a great big document and you'll be happy to receive it, and along, early next month we'll be writing copious quantities about it, I'm sure.
Q All right we'll go back to Fabiani. (Laughter.)
Q The Saudis apparently wrapped up their investigation of the Khobar bombing several weeks ago. I know this hasn't been on the radar screen recently, but where do we stand on the investigation at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they have not wrapped it up. There's an ongoing effort underway to investigate the bombing and it's one that we take seriously, one the Saudi government takes seriously, and it is still underway. They have reached no conclusions.
Q Do you have any idea when it will be wrapped up?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I do not. I think it would be more appropriate to check with those law enforcement officials from the United States who are working with Saudi law enforcement officials.
Q Mike, the Dick Morris book is coming out. Has anyone at the White House seen it or been briefed or has any knowledge of what is in it, and could you share with us what you know?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a subject of much speculation, and there are out there many rumors of what may be in it, but I haven't seen it myself.
Q Any comment on the Wall Street Journal report that the Republican Party may seek to penalize the business roundtable for supporting Democrats during the last round?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, boy, would I like to comment on that. After what we've been through with the questions raised about financial contributions to the President and the President's party and the questions of access, would I like to comment on that story.
Q Be our guest.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll just leave it -- I will just trust that there is some fairness in life and that the concern that you've expressed about contributions to the President and the President's party will be reflected in your pursuit of that story. Beyond that, I think the story pretty much speaks for itself, and the issues it raises are ones that I'm sure will be of great concern to news organizations.
Q Mike, going back to Fabiani, is this the only time where we have had the taxpayer-funded Counsel's Office working with the DNC, and can you address the propriety of that?
MR. MCCURRY: That is thoroughly appropriate for the White House Legal Counsel's Office to provide information in response to press inquiries, to use as the source of the information provided material that comes from whatever source it comes from. In this case, the bulk of the material comes from news reports, and that's thoroughly appropriate, and they've got a DNC clipping service that clips newspapers up there and they sent a batch of newspaper clips over to us, plus materials that they had used, and it's perfectly appropriate for the Legal Counsel's Office to use that in response to media inquiries.
Q Is that a unique instance --
MR. MCCURRY: The -- quote, unquote -- "taxpayer expense" -- here was a younger guy in the Legal Counsel's Office who took the time to put a two-and-a-half page cover memo on the clips. So there wasn't a lot of taxpayer expense involved. But, yes, it is appropriate to do that.
Q Did that package go to the President at the time?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because the President doesn't have the time to read -- look, this is basically the information that refutes a lot of trash that was out in the semi-public domain about Whitewater, and the President doesn't waste his time getting mesmerized by that kind of information.
Q Was he aware of that project?
MR. MCCURRY: He was certainly aware that the Legal Counsel's Office was making sure that people -- that we steer people away from bad information. You know, he would expect us to do that, and he has certainly expected us to respond to media inquiries.
Q He did not see the specific package?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. There were a lot of -- look, there was a lot of material -- you could go to a press conference that Chairman Don Fowler or someone would have in which this issue would get raised, and they would pass this stuff out. You could occasionally get it here when we wanted to save you folks time and say, we don't have time to go up to the Hill or, we can't get this stuff from the DNC, we sometimes hope you get it here through that office. That, I hope, has happened on numerous occasions over the past couple of years.
Q Mike, but is there another instance you can think of where the Counsel's Office has worked on a project with the DNC which is obviously political --
MR. MCCURRY: They can work -- we're working on one right now in responding to the questions about financial contributions, because sometimes there are issues in which there is a DNC event, that there's White House participation and we have to make sure that --
Q That's a little bit different because that involves activities, whether things --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's in this case exactly the same thing. It's responding to press inquiries and how do you make sure that they're getting the answers to one part of a story that involves them and we're getting the answers to stuff that involves us. So they coordinate the effort to respond to press inquiries --
Q I don't think it is the same thing. You were using the DNC basically as a research tool in the instance of this report, and in the instance of the campaign finance stuff, they are intimately involved.
MR. MCCURRY: Bill, the issue here is that we are responding -- the DNC is using its research capacity to respond to political attacks on the President. Now, it is more appropriate for the DNC research division, paid for by the party's political funding, to do that type of work to respond to political charges to the President than it would have been for the Legal Counsel's Office to do it. Now, the Legal Counsel has every right to have access to that information and to help use that in responding to press inquiries. Your suggestion by -- the implication of the question is somehow or other we should have used taxpayer resources to assemble the research material to be used. That would not have been proper.
Q No, the implication of the question was that your previous answer was disingenuous when you compared the two things and said that they were essentially the same.
MR. MCCURRY: I was trying to describe -- the question was, are there instances in which there is cooperation in something like this, and I said, yes, when you're responding to media inquiries. The DNC and the Legal Counsel's Office have been in contact. That's been happening regularly, and most of your news organizations have been pursuing the story know that.
Q -- talk about the false and fallacious charges in regard to Paula Jones, does the President believe that the media should not be reporting about the Paula Jones story, or --
MR. MCCURRY: No. Look, the Constitution of the United States is called into question in one respect in regards to that case, and it's going to be argued in front of the United States Supreme Court, and coming pretty soon. That's obviously a news story, and it's going to be covered, and no one would suggest otherwise. That is a legitimate story, of course, because of the constitutional issues that are involved, that the Court has decided to hear.
But what we're talking about is -- look, everyone in here knows there's a fair amount of nut-case material that floats around with respect to Whitewater, and some of it, unfortunately and tragically and very, very painfully, has to do with the death of a former White House staffer. And that stuff gets peddled, and sometimes -- in fact, in the summer of 1995, all too often was coming back at us from a lot of news organizations that, frankly, should have known better. So we would say, wait a minute, you guys are chasing a story that has very, very suspicious roots and let us document for you how this stuff gets out into the news flow, so that we can protect you and protect your readers and protect the American people from bad information.
Q Mike, so to make sure that I understand -- the use of the term "conspiracy" --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, these are conspiracy theorists. These are the conspiracy -- it's called in the document "the conspiracy commerce." These are the guys who are the conspiracy nuts who have been peddling this stuff for years and years.
Q That refers to the initial -- the nut cases, to use your term, and not the process --
MR. MCCURRY: That's the reference -- have you read this little cover that I'm talking about?
Q Yes. And not the process by --
MR. MCCURRY: That's what it is.
Q -- which it reaches the bulk of the American public.
MR. MCCURRY: The process by which -- that's called really more kind of the -- what did he call it "the food chain," It's called more "the media food chain" than that.
Q I just want to make sure that the food chain itself is not a part of a conspiracy in the belief of the White House. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, but there are plenty of examples of how this stuff gets fed back in to news organization and then sort of gets picked up. Look, you all have written about this, and this has been written about over and over again. You can pick up every other issue of The Columbia Journalism Review and see exactly the same subject covered. I just read a pretty interesting academic paper on this that's been done by a scholar. You know, this is part of it.
Warren, equal time for The Washington Times.
Q Thank you. About six months ago, Hazel O'Leary spent a bunch of taxpayers' money to rate how reporters covered her department, whether they were favorable or unfavorable. At the time, you were quite clear in saying that was inappropriate use. Can you explain to me what the difference is between that and this?
MR. MCCURRY: The difference here is we're trying to protect reporters, not rate them. We're trying to protect people from getting a bunch of bad stories in their papers.
Q Does that include The New York Post, The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the New York Post and The Washington Times are specifically identified as two news organizations that pick up some of these erroneous reports, very often coming from London, and reprint them without having the courage of putting their own bylines on them. And I believe -- certainly it has happened in the case of The Washington Times.
Q -- my paper has broken a lot of stories, important stories, on all these subjects we're talking about, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. But you've also -- that was a story that you had to retract because it was then retracted by the paper in question.
Q I wonder if I could read you something by Steve Hess, who I think we all agree is a respected presidential scholar and not a nut case. He said that this thing is the sort of stuff the Christic Society used to put out, that if Ronald Reagan had talked about a liberal media conspiracy like this it would have been laughed at on the front pages of major news -- let me just finish.
MR. MCCURRY: Deborah, I read this quote.
Q -- of paranoia, if not dementia in the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: I read his quote. You send him my transcript from this briefing and ask him if he wants to revise and amend those remarks. And just ask him. And then if he stands by the remarks at that point call me back and I'll answer you.
Q Does the White House have any timetable for replacing the Commissioner of the IRS? And what are your criteria for hiring someone, given that there have been allegations in regard to the IRS of misuse by the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that. I don't know what the status is.
Q Just a moment's clarification on an earlier topic. Senator Daschle said that this health care initiative for children is the Senate Democrats' highest priority. And it would just be helpful to know if they communicated that to the White House. Has that conversation been had?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had a very, very active dialogue with a very, very strong interest in the exact same effort and issue. The President will address his priorities very soon coming up in the inauguration and the State of the Union address. And we will certainly share a great deal in common with Senate Democrats and others on the Hill when it comes exactly to those priorities.
But we will have -- they have to think of their priorities in terms of the legislative calendar, what they think they can actually get, given their minority status. We have to think of our priorities in our world as the executive branch, framing a larger scope of concerns for the Congress.
And indeed, going beyond that, the President -- there is a lot more to what the President will define and look to in a second term as his priorities than just the work we do with Congress. A lot of his work goes to the use of the bully pulpit, to his work with the American people to talk about the things that we can do together to address some of the problems we face that very often doesn't involve a role for government or a role for legislative activity. And we'll talk about, obviously, the actions that he will take. So he will cast his priorities in a somewhat different fashion but will certainly on that specific concern share the urgency and primacy of dealing with the issue.
Q You didn't get to the second half of my question. Would the President be looking outside the IRS for someone with political ties to the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's do that -- we'll save something for tomorrow. He's going to -- I just haven't checked. I haven't talked to him or to any of the transition team people about the IRS.
Q Mike, related to Daschle's plan, does the President believe that you could pay for universal health care coverage for all children in a balanced budget proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes, and you heard him talk about, accessibility and coverage and the things that we're going to have to do to bring more people, especially the uncovered now, into the system. We've had budget proposals in the past that dealt with exactly that, and you'll see a lot of that concern and a lot of those ideas reflected on February 6th.
Q But how about -- I mean, the President has already proposed what would be a very large tax credit for education. Does he feel that he could have that at the same time he would have a very large tax credit for giving health care to all children?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a question that will be much easier to answer when you deal with the President's FY '98 budget documents. So it's a good question to ask in the context of the release of our budget. Nothing on the budget. We're freezing up the budget.
Q Is Ann Lewis going to join --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I'm delighted to announce the President has a new Assistant to the President and Deputy Communications Director. The ever-talented and brilliant Ann Lewis, who most recently was the Deputy Campaign Manager and Director of Communications, was announced today to the White House staff as our new Deputy Communications Director -- Don Baer being very happy that she will soon be on board to assist in the work of helping shape the administration's external communications, our reaching out to different people, our communications strategy for the four years ahead.
Q On the Supreme Court Paula Jones suit, is there any concern that this coming at this time, just before the Inauguration, could mar some of the festivities?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it depends on whether -- it depends on how extensively you all cover it.
Q Well, is there concern here about this impending argument?
MR. MCCURRY: The truth is, I mean, we have not been working on it here. The work on that case is done outside the building, so it has not occupied a lot of time from people here. And the President, himself, long ago on this matter, being fully confident of the facts, turned it over to his lawyer and is letting his lawyer deal with it. And I've not heard him spend a lot of time worrying about it. We certainly know that it's going to be argued before the Court. We certainly know it's going to be in the news. We certainly know it's going to come up. And so be it. The facts speak for themselves and will speak for themselves and the President is not letting that detract from what he has to do day in and day out, which is to do the job he was elected to do.
You know, if he got -- spent anytime worrying about that matter or any of the other matters we've been talking about today,he would not be doing what he really should be doing each and every day, which is addressing the needs of the American people and crafting the kind of agenda and program that's going to address their needs. That's how he spends his time every day. In fact, he makes a conscious effort not to spend his time thinking about any of these matters and goes out of his way to avoid discussion of these kinds of matters because it just detracts from his ability to get done what he wants to get done. It puts you in a better frame of mind when you stay away from junk.
Q Mike, you referred before on this report that a younger guy in Fabiani's shop did the two-and-a-half pages. Can you tell us who it was?
MR. MCCURRY: I can check for you, yes.
Q What can you tell us about tomorrow's CEO meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: As we said a little bit earlier in the week, the President is looking forward to an opportunity to meet with the major leaders from the private sector, people who share the President's commitment to making welfare reform a success. And the people who understand that the solutions to welfare reform are going to come from a variety of sources -- not just government, but from the private sector, as well. If we're going to break the cycle of dependency on welfare benefits, we have to rely on many people to provide help, including the provision of jobs in the private sector.
So the President will be talking with these officials tomorrow about what the private sector can do to create employment opportunities for those who are going to move from welfare dependency into work situations. I think he's going to have reason to be very encouraged by what he's going to hear from some of the companies involved. And we'll look forward to seeing the group that will be tomorrow. We'll have more information tomorrow or later today on who is actually -- tomorrow on who the list we expect here. Mary Ellen maybe can help you.
Q Is he going to ask them to support his legislation? Is he going to ask them to support his tax legislation on the welfare to work?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's -- he's going to concentrate in this session more on the implementation of welfare reform. We've got some fixes that we need on other subjects, but, frankly, they're not related to the central challenge here, which is to make this transition from welfare dependency to work successful. And that's about providing jobs and jobs that can help encourage people to move off of welfare dependency and into employment situations. So that's really what the focus is on tomorrow.
Q Could you clarify something that I had asked earlier about the Dick Morris book? Are you expecting to get some word early, or to get a copy, or to at least have some courtesy information, or somehow to have a feel for what's in there?
MR. MCCURRY: I imagine the book shows up here at some point, sure.
Q But not yet?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether it's here or not yet.
Q So it might be here?
MR. MCCURRY: It could be. I don't know whether we've got it over here or not.
Q Mike, you were asked a few days ago whether the White House would consider hiring some welfare recipients to act more or less as a role model.
MR. MCCURRY: It was at the time a good idea, and I've actually -- a couple people -- we've passed that on to a couple of people. I'm not aware that we've done that yet, but it was an interesting idea. We'll look into it.
Thank you. See you all tomorrow.
END 3:33 P.M. EST