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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 13, 1997
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: And a hush fell over the briefing room as we began the White House daily briefing on this Monday, January 13, 1997.

I think we're pretty well done the event of the day. That's it. Any questions?

Q Was today's very moving medal of honor ceremony scheduled --

Q There's no audio.

MR. MCCURRY: There's still no audio I am told.

Q Yes, there is.

MR. MCCURRY: Now there is. I just hadn't been flapping my gums yet, that's all.

The scheduling -- this event had been scheduled for quite some time, scheduled without any consideration of what the schedule in the Court was. Originally, the President had looked and considered doing this event sometime around Veterans Day, but it worked out better for the participants better to do it some time early in the new year. And we obviously want to do it in connection with the celebratory, bringing the country together mood that the President is seeking as he heads toward the Inaugural a week from today.

Q So today's scheduling had absolutely nothing to do with the --

MR. MCCURRY: Correct.

Q Mike, I know that Mr. Bennett is taking care of answering the questions on this, but I just wondered if the President had any personal reflections or if there's any comment from him today?

MR. MCCURRY: None that he shared with me.

Q Mike, is he being briefed?

MR. MCCURRY: Jack Quinn was up -- the White House Legal Counsel was there in his capacity as the counsel to the presidency and there are issues involving the presidency at stake in the argument heard in the court today. And Jack tells me at some point he will -- might give the President an update, but he hasn't done that yet and the President hasn't requested that update.

Q Mike, does the President believe that HMOs are being overcompensated for their Medicare costs?

MR. MCCURRY: We believe that there are costs -- the increase in reimbursements that have gone to HMOs have been excessive. The amount that they've been excessive have been measured variously by HCFA. They can tell you some about that. But there's a strong argument for reducing some of the payments that are made and you'll probably see some of that argument reflected when the President makes his budget arguments.

Q Mike, Justice Scalia today was musing and said, gee, presidents do things like play golf and chop wood. What is there about the President's schedule that if he can find time to read the Dick Morris book, why couldn't he find time to depose in this case? And could you also talk to us a little bit in detail about what else he did today other than medal ceremony?

MR. MCCURRY: As President Reagan once said, the President of the United States does not get time off so much as a change of venue, because the job goes with you wherever you are. People here in this room have been with the current President when his vacations have been interrupted by space vehicles falling from the sky, when diplomats have been murdered in Bosnia, when various developments around the world have required his immediate response.

So the argument is much more that the constitutional duties of the President go with him 24 hours a day, regardless of what he is doing at any particular moment. Beyond that, I'm not going to attempt to restate the arguments that Mr. Bennett and others argued effectively before the Court.

Q Could you discuss his schedule today?

MR. MCCURRY: I did that this morning at the gaggle.

Q Mr. Cammarata of -- one of the lawyers for Mrs. Jones, said that it's never too late to settle, and that even at this late moment they would be willing to work out some sort of out-of-court settlement. And he outlined, in fact, the specific -- some language that might prove to be acceptable.

MR. MCCURRY: You should ask the President's attorney about matters like that.

Q Some congressional Republicans last week seemed very optimistic, including Chairman Archer of the Ways and Means Committee, that the President will go further on capital gains cuts than he had previously proposed. Is that the case, and if so, will that be reflected in the President's budget, or will that be something that might be negotiated further down the line?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President's thinking on tax relief is pretty well known, the way it should be targeted on things that will encourage future economic growth, particularly things like college education, research and development, those things that we've set forth in the past. At the same time, we have to enter into a budget discussion as we will when the President formally submits his budget with openness towards those ideas that the Republican leadership may wish to present. And I believe the President will enter these discussions with that attitude.

Q As the Northern Ireland talks resume today, is there any comment from the White House about the talks?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll have a statement immediately -- (laughter) -- from the President that will welcome the resumption of multi-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland as they were recommenced today in Belfast. As the new year begins, the President urges the British and Irish governments and the leaders of Northern Ireland's political parties to press forward with their efforts to achieve a lasting settlement that will ensure peace, justice, prosperity, and opportunity for the people they represent. The President will also reaffirm his strong support for the independent effort Senator Mitchell is conducting, and we have other thoughts reflected in the statement that goes on at greater length than that.

Q Any news on Hebron?

MR. MCCURRY: Ambassador Ross remains in the region, remains in contact with the parties, and agrees with those of us that suggested earlier today that we should proceed with the caution that is always attached to the Middle East peace process; that this is one that is fraught with enormous complexity, and that the issues are still being worked by the parties themselves, and the United States in its facilitating role is still encouraging the parties to make progress to overcome differences that still do exist at this point.

Q So was that -- that was not, like, you don't know of any progress, is that the answer?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had some progress reported as a result of King Hussein's timely intervention yesterday during the discussions. But as everyone agreed, they have not reached a final agreement and there will continue to be work on the remaining differences in the coming days.

Q Does the President think members of Congress should be subject to the laws against illegal wire-tapping?

MR. MCCURRY: The Justice Department would certainly indicate so, and there are federal statutes on the book. I'm not going to comment on how they may apply in any given controversy on the Hill currently.

Q Does the President have an opinion on the Citadel case? Does he think it will have a chilling effect if these two women are not returning to school?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, again, that's a case in which the United States was a plaintiff, having entered the case on behalf of Shannon Faulkner, so the Justice Department has maintained a keen interest in the willingness of the Citadel to admit female cadets, and in the treatment that they received there. So they will be monitoring, most likely, I would presume -- I don't know, but most likely through the civil rights division, any of the developments that have been heard about today.

Q Mike, on the Medals of Honor, does the President accept the conclusion of that federally funded study that racial bias was the reason why African Americans did not receive the medals which they are now due?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President, by indicating today that a chapter in history was more complete now than it has been heretofore would, at least in part, agree with some of that reason.

Q I'll try another tax question if I could. Again, congressional Republicans --

MR. MCCURRY: As fruitfully as you tried earlier, no doubt. (Laughter.)

Q Trent Lott and others have indicated that they would like to see a tax cut in the range of $124 billion to $150 billion, maybe even larger. I think the President was down in the $100 billion range. Well, again, will there be anything reflected in the President's budget that will come closer to what Republicans have wanted, or could we be looking for something in the $100 billion range?

MR. MCCURRY: I notice that the Majority Leader, over the weekend, with great care refused to quantify his desire for tax relief, and I think that the President would consider that refusal well advised.

Q Last week he took less care.

MR. MCCURRY: So as he has indicated himself.

Q Mike, there were reports out of South Africa that the South African government is considering selling $640 million worth of arms to Syria, including tank firing systems. Apparently there are some concerns, however, in South Africa about the stance that the U.S. government might take on such a sale. Does the U.S. have a position on that?

MR. MCCURRY: We have a strongly worded statement here that amounts to saying we think that's a very bad idea. We're aware of those reports. We have not independently confirmed that they may be trying to transfer tank firing missile systems to Syria, but we urge the government of South Africa not to go through with the sale and we have confidence that the government of South Africa understands the seriousness of this issue.

Q Can I get back to the Paula Jones for one second?

MR. MCCURRY: You can try. (Laughter.)

Q The White House strategy is try to maintain a low profile and Bob Bennett really didn't even want to talk to reporters at the stake-out at the Supreme Court. The White House --

MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, you generally have a lot of luck just talking about strategy on your own, so I don't really need to add to that. (Laughter.)

Q Well, could you explain what the --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have a strategy. There were briefs filed in the case. The President's attorney filed on behalf of the President as a petitioner. The Justice Department entered the case on behalf of the presidency itself. The briefs speak for themselves. The argument spoke for themselves. And as the Chief Justice said, the matter has now been submitted. Therefore, we don't have any further comment on it, it's before the Court.

Q Mike, there were two factors in the Jones Case: one, that this would be a distraction for the President; two, this would be a bad precedent, that it would set all presidents up to this, being harassed -- was one of those factors or arguments more pivotal in President Clinton's thinking?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a very truncated reading of the brief and I think the brief speaks for itself.

             Q  I think the brief addresses both those concerns --
             MR. MCCURRY:  It certainly does, and you can judge for

yourself in the eloquent argument presented, the weight that's attached to each respective argument.

Q Is this to say that we're likely not to hear anything from the White House from here on in till the summer when they make their decision?

Q Bingo. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Sounds like a good guess to me. (Laughter.)

Q Would you rather have tax questions?

Q Is that because, Mike --

MR. MCCURRY: Because, look, how often do I stand here and say, look, that matter is pending litigation; we don't have a comment? I say that routinely here about any number of issues, and this matter is now before the court. So we really don't have any comment further.

Q Is there concern that there may be a repeat of what happened before when certain comments from Clinton supporters or staff people blew a deal that had been in the works?

MR. MCCURRY: There's just the determination to do what is the appropriate thing, not to comment on -- of course, it's in front of the court for decision.

Q Has Erskine or Leon tried to make everybody know that there shouldn't be any kind of leaks of the kind there were before?

MR. MCCURRY: They are two gentlemen with a scarce amount of time on their hands, so they generally do not state the obvious.

Good, we're done, that's it.

Q Mike, speaking of those two gentlemen, when does Leon actually, officially leave? On Inauguration Day, or --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he serves as Chief of Staff through January 20th. But the transition between two very close friends has sort of proceeded with both of them in a sense working through the issues that are on the President's agenda. They complement each other well, as you know from the fact that Erskine was at one point Leon's deputy. And you can see the portfolios gradually being exchanged back and forth with each other. Both still have very active and critical roles to play for the President, and the formal change will occur on the 20th.

Q Has he actually started moving out of his office?

MR. MCCURRY: Not yet. Not yet.

Q Senator Domenici last week listed five criteria that he hoped the President's budget will meet in order to have the kind of bipartisan cooperation that some had talked about in the budget process this year. Are you familiar with those five criteria, and do you know whether the President's budget will meet those, such as no shell games on Medicare?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not entirely familiar with his five points, but I know that he'll get a more than adequate answer on February 6th.

Q Do you have more on what the President will be doing Inauguration weekend?

MR. MCCURRY: We've got some very tentative stuff. Maybe later in the week we can kind of run through what some of the events are. I don't --

Q Do you know if tentatively he might plan to visit the great thinkers tent?

MR. MCCURRY: The great thinkers tent. (Laughter.) To think great thoughts. We'll see. We've got -- I asked someone to get a little rundown. We'll do a little schedule briefing on the weekend later in the week.

Q There was a CNN poll last Friday which found that most Americans now think that Paula Jones should get her day in court now, whereas a couple of years ago they were much more split. Does that concern the White House that most Americans think she's right on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't -- I honestly didn't see that specific result. The one I saw that was a record, I think, in their poll, 58 percent expressed approval for the President's performance in office. (Laughter.)

Q Can you foreshadow a chemical weapons comment -- what's Clinton going to do to plug that this week?

MR. MCCURRY: We've had conversations with the Senate about the importance of ratifying the Chemical Weapons Conventions. The President has stressed that at several different times publicly in recent weeks. You've heard Secretary-designate Albright suggest that should be a very high priority. I reported to you that Sandy Berger and others, including Mr. Panetta, have been on the Hill meeting with Majority Leader Lott to encourage him to schedule it by the April deadline for ratification and for it to become an initial party to the convention. And the President wants to set forth the case for that in more explicit terms, which he will do so tomorrow, correct?

Well, Mr. Johnson will reliably report to you on what the forum is.

Q Mike, in order to be confirmed as his trade representative, Charlene Barshefsky needs a special waiver from both Houses of Congress because of her past service in the private sector. Do you have any concerns at all that one House or the other won't pass the required waiver in order for her to be confirmed?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had good discussions with them, the argument being that since she was covered under the original grandfather or grandmother statute, or whatever it should be called, so she was treated in the initial legislation as exempt from the provisions of the statute that it would make sense for her to continue to be exempt. And we've had good conversations on both the House side and the Senate side about that and I believe we sent the necessary enabling legislation to the Hill. We hope it's expeditiously and favorably received by the Congress.

Q Is that your position or their position that it would make sense for her to continue to be exempt?

MR. MCCURRY: That's the position that we argue as we forwarded the enabling legislation to the Hill.

Q Are you aware of any key players on this question on the Hill that would be -- has expressed opposition on this position to you and might cause a problem?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure -- because Congress is just getting organized, I'm not sure I could identify even who all the key players are. But I know we've had some productive discussions so far.

Q Senator Lott has indicated it troubles him a little bit, the idea to move on with this waiver. Senator Robb has embraced her nomination.

MR. MCCURRY: I've seen some comments from people express some concern, but we think we can make a persuasive case. And certainly the quality of the nominee, herself, is the strongest argument for the exemption.

Q When the Cabinet officials came out after their meetings on Saturday, none of them mentioned health care, particularly for children, as a top priority issue, even though Senate Democrats have identified that as one. Why not?

MR. MCCURRY: There was not a specific presentation organized around health care for children. I'll tell you that health care was imbedded in many of the discussions that were held, reflected even some things that Madeleine Albright said about some of the international priorities we will pursue, certainly in the remarks by General McCaffrey when he talked about the importance of protecting children from the effects of drugs, certainly in some of the discussions related to Medicare and budget, because there are health care elements that are very important there.

And in a sense, health care, which will continue to be a priority, was woven into many aspects of the discussion Saturday. But there was not the need for a separate kind of presentation because I think our track on how we will pursue our health care objectives is pretty well defined by the position the President has taken in dealing with this Republican Congress and on the work that we've suggested that we will do in the aftermath of passage of the Kassebaum-Kennedy legislation. We sort of know what the specific objectives and tests are out there. Some of them are going to be addressed in the President's budget submission. And all of that, I think, was assumed in the quality of the conversation on Saturday.

Q -- or support the separate health care initiatives covering or guaranteeing coverage for all children as well as --

MR. MCCURRY: We'll be working very carefully with Senate Democrats on the issue that they have identified as their number one health care priority for 1997, certainly.

Q Mike, you were talking before about the celebratory mood the President is hoping to create. Is he concerned that the ongoing fight and probable hearings on Newt Gingrich right in the middle of the inaugural festivities are going to affect that mood?

MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard him specifically say that, but he is trying to create a climate in which Republicans and Democrats, regardless of whether they are in the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch, or the Senate or the House, or which side of the aisle they're on, will come together to address the issues that the American people have identified for greater attention by the government here in Washington. And he's trying, as you know, to create a climate in which those issues can be addressed.

Q On the Middle East again, are you aware of yet another letter bomb reaching Al-Hayat newspaper at their U.N. bureau today?

MR. MCCURRY: We've been in contact with the U.S.-U.N. Mission. We understand that they have been attempting to sort out, through security officers at the Mission what's going on at the United Nations. I believe there's been a partial evacuation of some of the offices there. I really will leave it to U.N. officials and to New York City law enforcement officials to speak to the specific discovery that they've made, but it obviously concerns us greatly to see a replication of some of the types of things that we were dealing with just last week. And we certainly, if we are invited to by the United Nations, would be available to lend whatever law enforcement expertise we have through the FBI or other agencies to any investigation of this matter.

Q And on the negotiations with Arafat and Netanyahu. Will King Hussein be encouraged to continue his more active intercession?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will encourage all of those who are peacemakers to continue to lend their good offices to the search for peace. The King has been particularly insightful in talking about how we can best overcome the challenges and the hurdles that remain when it comes to issues like Hebron or even of issues that have been identified as part of the final status issues in the discussion, but there are others.

I reported to some of you earlier today the President had a very good conversation with President Mubarak, because his insights, his leadership within the process is indispensable to the search for peace in the Middle East. And the President, as do many leaders in the region have committed themselves to peace, wants to do everything they can to encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to bridge any differences that exist as they come very close now to reaching a final agreement.

Q Is Netanyahu coming to the White House in early February?

MR. MCCURRY: We've indicated that we expect him to come sometime early in the year. The President seeks an opportunity to see him sometime early in the year, but we haven't had any details about when that might occur.

Q Will he be welcome here if there's no deal on Hebron?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, our partnership and strategic alliance with Israel are based on many, many factors in the region. The pursuit of peace is not the sole determinant factor of our relationship. But, certainly, we encourage such a close and steadfast ally to do everything possible to continue the pursuit of peace, and -- but regardless of that, there have been ups and downs in the peace process throughout the years and we've always maintained a very close, important strategic alliance with the government of Israel.

Q Is the President going to call him?

Q Does that mean he would be welcome, even if there's no deal?

MR. MCCURRY: The Prime Minister of Israel would always be welcome in the United States and at the White House.

Q Is he going to call him or anyone else at this point?

MR. MCCURRY: We've had direct contact with the Prime Minister, with the Chairman and with others because of the presence of our team in the region. I reported to you the only call that I'm aware of, but the President has been following the matter very carefully and is available to those doing the mediating on behalf of the United States if further action by him is suggested.

Q Mike, while we're on foreign policy, have you gotten any updates on the situation in Peru? You know there were reports of gunfire in the compound today.

MR. MCCURRY: We've seen reports and are trying to get the information both from our embassy and then also based on the ongoing contact we've had with both the governments of Peru and Japan.

Q Is an announcement imminent on a presidential trip to Latin America in the near future?

MR. MCCURRY: Define "imminent."

Q Will a trip happen around March?

MR. MCCURRY: Spring, maybe. The President would very much -- is very anxious to go there. The subject was addressed very eloquently by Secretary Christopher during the Cabinet briefing on Saturday. There is a desire by the President to go to the region, and in fact he feels remiss that he did not make such a trip during his first term. But we have not announced a schedule and we've pointed towards the possibility of a trip early in this year, but scheduling remains to be determined.

Q Do you expect an announcement this month?

Q -- Peru as part of the itinerary?

MR. MCCURRY: That's an emergency, ongoing situation that we've been working on, and the work on that cannot await a presidential journey in the future.

Q Do you expect an announcement this month, Mike, when you're saying "imminent"?

MR. MCCURRY: Maybe not. We're almost to the end of the month. They're still working on the details.

Q On HMO and Medicare, are you concerned some HMOs have raised concern that if payments are cut back its services would have to be cut in rural areas, or certain benefits to the elderly would have to be cut? Does the administration -- has the administration taken that into account, particularly the impact in rural areas?

MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. We have taken into account all of our proposals with respect to Medicare, with the likely impact on beneficiaries. One of the President's most keenly felt goals is to avoid a disproportionate impact on beneficiaries. And we believe that those savings that are generated in the provider community can be generated without affecting those who are Medicare beneficiaries.

Q Mike, would you care to share a little of Secretary Christopher's eloquence with us?

MR. MCCURRY: On the subject of Latin America, among others.

Q That's not eloquent. What did he say? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he just -- I mean, the importance of the opportunity that exists for us to cement the relationship that came out of the Summit of the Americas in 1994 is an important one and one that he spoke to directly, having just taken a mission himself to that region.

Q Mike, would it be tied to the expansion of NAFTA?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it wouldn't be tied specifically. That's one very important concern and the President's support of the entry of Chile into that process is well-known. But that's not the sole determining factor, no.

Q Do you think the President would be ready to do the D.C. aid package this week?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It's already done because it's included in the budget.

Q Is he going to announce it this week?

MR. MCCURRY: He may have more to say on it later in the week.

Q Mike, this coming weekend, what is the President going to be doing on Saturday and Sunday with all the pre-Inaugural activities?

MR. MCCURRY: You missed Stuart earlier. We're going to do a little briefing later in the week on what the President's schedule is for the weekend. A very active one, obviously.

Q In what context would he talk about the D.C. package?

MR. MCCURRY: Just talk about it. We'll let you know what the details are later.

Q Did the President watch football all day yesterday, as reported and --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?

Q Did the President actually watch football all day yesterday, for six, eight hours? And who does he want to win the Super Bowl? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he has a preference in the Super Bowl. He did watch at least part of the game because he called and interrupted Mr. Bowles by telephone at one point to talk to him about a matter when the Carolina Panthers scored their lone touchdown of the first half. It was the first quarter he called.

Q Was he calling him about football? Was he rubbing salt in the wound there or -- (laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, he called on another matter, and otherwise distracted Mr. Bowles.

Q Is Mr. Bowles depressed today?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he'll live to fight another day, he says.

Q Mike, would you elaborate on some of the President's -- to officially say goodbye to Secretary Perry tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I know that tomorrow he intends to pay tribute to the enormous service that Dr. Perry rendered his country both -- in all the capacities he served at the Department and most recently as Secretary of Defense. He has been someone of enormous patience, courage and integrity who has addressed the emerging defense and national security challenges we face in the post-Cold War era with a great deal of creativity, a great deal of prudence and a great deal of vigor when it comes to advancing America's security objectives in the world. The President looks forward to the opportunity to wish him a very fond farewell.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.

END 1:41 P.M. EST