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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 14, 1997
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:42 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to today's daily briefing. Mr. Blitzer looks like he has the first question of the day -- because Helen's just waking up now.

Q Does the President think it's a good idea to once again reintroduce the cap on Medicaid spending that he proposed last time around?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President did have that in his budget submission last year, and I'll decline any comment on what's going to be in the budget submission coming up. As you know, we do have an interest in making sure that in our Medicare-Medicaid proposals we generate sufficient savings that are consistent with the President's balanced budget goal. And he does have some specific ideas on how that can be done in a way that preserves the individual guarantee of access to health care, but at the same time creates a mechanism for fiscal restraint in the program itself.

Q Has the President been in contact with Dennis Ross or --

MR. MCCURRY: The President has been following Ambassador Ross's work in the Middle East very, very closely, has gotten updates throughout the last several days on the status of the discussions. I think some of you know at about 5:00 p.m. our time tonight we expect Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu to begin a meeting that could last however long it takes for the parties to continue their work to bridge differences. And we don't want to speculate on the outcome of those discussions because nothing is certain.

Q On this point, Mike, can you tell us what the President's personal involvement has been, let's say, over the last four or five days or a week in terms of calls to the various principals?

MR. MCCURRY: He has had direct contact over the course of these last set of deliberations with Chairman Arafat. And as I told you, he called Sunday night out to Cairo to speak with President Mubarak and exchanged views with President Mubarak. He's also fed back through the National Security Council and through Sandy Berger specifically some thoughts and counsel on the deliberations themselves with some thought about how the United States can best play the facilitating and mediating role that it's playing in the dialogue directly between the parties.

Q Has he also been in touch with either Netanyahu or King Hussein in recent days?

MR. MCCURRY: Not directly, but we are in very close contact with them through Ambassador Ross who has been personally engaged with each of them.

Q A question on the District. Can you give us -- beyond your saying the President's been heavily engaged, in detail about what he's done regarding this District plan? And was there some event that sort of precipitated in his mind the need to act more boldly?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's followed it closely and has even suggested often in recent months that the condition of the city, his status as in some sense of the premiere residence of the city gives him a special responsibility to attend to the needs of the District. He quite sometime ago asked, as a follow-up to Dr. Alice Rivlin's work on the District issue at OMB, that our new Director Frank Raines pay special attention to that issue and keep him regularly briefed, which Frank, of course, has done. The President has been involved in a number of deliberations related to the package that we revealed today including making some decisions at the end of the process on specific items that have now been detailed to you.

So he's followed this carefully, been very personally involved in the decision-making and I expect that you'll see him in a public way continue to emphasize his own support of this city, his own determination to make sure it is restored to sound financial health and, most importantly, that the citizens who live here in their ability to govern themselves and see fit to a process of government that meets the needs of all the District's citizens and residents.

Q You said the President in the last -- made some personal -- personally made some decisions on this. What kind of questions were thrown to him?

MR. MCCURRY: There's some elements on fine-tuning the package itself in some of the specific options that were laid out initially by the D.C. Control Board. And there were some questions about how much assumption of responsibility and risk the federal government would take and then also what requirements would be made of the District itself, sorting out those responsibilities. There were different scenarios, different options involved with those, and the President had to choose between some of them, based, of course, on the recommendations that came to him from the Inter-agency Task Force that worked on the District.

Q Mike, four years ago he took that walk down Georgia Avenue and then really didn't have much to say or do about the District for a long time. What is it that caused him to do this now?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, clearly the condition, the financial condition of the District deteriorated. There were new emergencies that arose. And the President, having earned the right to live in the city for four more years, thought that that should be a focus of his work over the next four years.

Q Would it be correct to say that Mrs. Clinton has been a prime motivating force in elevating this issue? And will she be largely responsible for it in the second term?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd say it's more accurate the other way around. The President's determination to make clear the federal government and the White House's support for the District has led a number of people throughout the administration to think about what they can do to lend support -- the First Lady, of course, but others throughout the administration.

Q But, Mike, it's been obvious for quite a while that the financial condition of the District was deteriorating. Why didn't he do this a year ago?

MR. MCCURRY: A year ago -- I mean, we did have some budget proposals that had an impact on the District. Quite frankly, a year ago, if you'll recall, we were dealing with the shutdown of the federal government and the federal government was in extremis itself. Now, we're dealing more with the conditions here in the District. And we're in the fortunate position, we believe, of having the budget deliberations here at a point where there is some consensus between the federal government and local officials, some consensus between Republicans and Democrats about how to attend to the needs of the District.

You'll also recall this time a year ago there was a philosophical debate about how best to attend to the needs of the District. And we see that somewhat diminished now, that there is an agreement on ideas about what to do. It flows out of the recommendations of the D.C. Control Board. So we're in better position because of the work that's been done over the last year to craft the kind of package that we announced today.

Q Why so much money in the package? Why not just simply allow the District to do what every other city in the land does, and that's tax federal property?

MR. MCCURRY: Because the District of Columbia is the nation's city, and it is the Nation's Capital. It has the unique status, a status you've heard the President describe before. It is not like any other city in this country because of it's unique role as the Nation's Capital.

Q But that doesn't -- I mean, I know it structurally was built not to tax federal property, but in light of all the problems and all, why not just make the exemption?

MR. MCCURRY: The whole package we talk about it a better way to manage the resources made available by the federal government properly because so much of the property here in the District, particularly in the downtown area is federally owned. This is -- it arises from the fact that this is the national capital.

Q Faircloth is calling this a rip-off. Is there any chance of anybody --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we think this is a very smart, sensibly constructed package that offers opportunity to the District of Columbia in exchange for the responsibility required of the District to more sensibly manage its affairs. It has been developed in close consultation with District officials, with amply input from relevant members of Congress. We believe that the package will be very favorably received on Capitol Hill.

Q Did the Secretary of Treasury accurately reflect the President's view that he still favors statehood for the District?

MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. It's in the Democratic Platform among other expressions of support that have been recently made for statehood.

Q But how would you describe that support? Is it dormant or --

MR. MCCURRY: It's frequently restated.

Q Mike, are you able to confirm any of these reports coming out from Belgrade about the election commission? And could you tell us also on the situation in Bulgaria right now, what action, if any, the U.S. is taking in that?

MR. MCCURRY: Bulgaria, as a matter of fact, is being briefed, I think, over at the State Department even at this very minute. I will leave that to them. On Serbia, the announcement by the Serb government officials that they will accept the opposition victory at least for the Belgrade city assembly posts that have been contested appears to be a positive step.

I would stress, however, that we want to see whether or not those duly elected actually take their seats, begin to function in their capacity as members of the assembly, and it also remains to be seen whether Belgrade authorities will continue to comply with some of the stipulations put forward by the OSCE mediator Felipe Gonzalez who has been there and has suggested ways in which the civilians institutions that are arising as a result of some of the transformations take place there actually evolve into something more resembling a duly constituted democracy.

Q Mike, any further movement on when a public announcement on a Democratic National Committee chair would be confirmed?

MR. MCCURRY: Haven't we already -- haven't we done that -- sort of?

Q Not for us TV folk.

MR. MCCURRY: All right. What I -- you know that there was a meeting of the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday. Given the schedules of both Mr. Grossman and Governor Romer, given Governor Romer's desire to go back and talk to the people of Colorado about the role he will play, we are going to allow him the courtesy of doing that. And I suspect that the first time you'll see this group in a public setting discussing these positions is probably Tuesday at the DNC meeting. They, of course, will see each other, no doubt, during the course of the Inaugural Weekend.

Q Has anybody at the White House inquired into Tony Rodham's statement that he was offered $100,000 to set up a meeting between President Clinton and the President of Paraguay?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. But you left off the last part of the sentence, which is he rejected any such offer of money, which is obviously the important factor.

Q So nobody is looking into it or trying to determine who offered him the money?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. He would not -- he made it clear that he rejected it. There was nothing reported in any of the news accounts on this that he accepted it. As a private citizen, he is not required to report it, is my understanding and what I've been told by those familiar with the law.

Q Was the White House not aware of this until the published accounts?

MR. MCCURRY: It was not aware of this until the Boston Globe made inquiries related to it.

Q So he didn't inform anybody at the White House that this --

MR. MCCURRY: I -- not to my knowledge.

Q Are any non-family staying at the White House, the Lincoln Bedroom and so forth, over the Inaugural Weekend?

MR. MCCURRY: You might want to ask Neel Lattimore of the First Lady's Office. I've seen him quoted elsewhere saying that family members are going to be occupying the dorm space. But why don't you see what he can tell you about that?

Q Do you have an estimate on the length of the Inaugural address, and have you set a time yet for a briefing?

MR. MCCURRY: I have not, and we have not set a time. At some point we will brief appropriately on the address. It's a work in formation. I think we'll know a lot more about its duration and general points about it as we get closer to next Monday.

Q I gather you expect it to be longer than the first one.

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a reasonable assumption, but we don't know for certain until the President finishes writing it.

Q Mike, this drug, Seldane, has been in the news. Do you know if the President has taken that or does take that for his allergies?

MR. MCCURRY: He does not. If you look back on the medical records that we've released to you you'll see that his doctors have prescribed the prescription antihistamine, Claritin, which is what the President's treatment is for his allergies. It is not -- Seldane use is not indicated.

Q But he never has? I didn't recall him ever taking it.

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. Dr. Mariano believes at some point he may have, but that's not currently in the program of treatment for his allergies.

Q Getting back to his speech, do you have any general themes, kind of his different vision of what he did four years ago compared to this year? Anything emerging?

MR. MCCURRY: I can do that if you need to have that now. It would sound awfully familiar to you because it's very broadly general. But he will be talking about preparing America for the 21st century. The quintessential challenge of the next four-year period is to assemble those tools that the American people need and make sure that we're the strongest country on Earth; that the continued economic strength that we saw reflected in the economic numbers today, a 28-year low in the Misery Index, that all the fundamentals of that economic performance are in place, that the American people are prepared to meet the challenges of raising their incomes and raising their kids in a way that meets the dreams of Americans as we think of the new millennium.

Q And what is the speechwriting --

MR. MCCURRY: Do you want me to keep going?

Q And what is the speechwriting process? Baer, Waldman -- how are they working on it?

MR. MCCURRY: A whole lot of folks who send in their ideas. The faxes are humming with suggestions as is often the case from a lot of different places. And the President sits with his team and offers them his ideas and tries different riffs, better than the ones that I just -- better than the one I just tried. And they take that, they take it, they work it, they shape it, they incorporate some other things, other ideas the President has. But ultimately, I think, it will not be a finished product until the President lines out everything prepared for him and writes in his own hand as he internalizes the speech and gets prepared to give it.

Q Has the bridge been banished or will it be back?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the bridge carried us to reelection and so it will carry us to the next century as well.

Q Is Dick Morris -- has Dick Morris worked on any of this? Has he sent in his --

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea.

Q Could you take that question, whether he --


Q Why not, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look --

Q It's a legitimate question.

MR. MCCURRY: If I did that, there are no doubt hundreds of people who have contributed ideas. In fact, I think it would be accurate to say there are hundreds of ideas. I'm not going to identify any one particular person.

Q I don't think there are as many people who are as newsworthy and perhaps as controversial as Dick Morris.

MR. MCCURRY: How do you know?

Q Well, I think I have some idea of what's newsworthy.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll see.

Q Mike, in fairness, this question -- we were told that Dick Morris wouldn't have policy input with the President --

MR. MCCURRY: You were told that he would not a formal or informal role as an adviser to the President --

Q Yes, but isn't that a fair question to ask here? I mean, we're not asking about other individuals, but an individual we were told wouldn't be --

MR. MCCURRY: I will check and see. I don't -- not to my -- to my knowledge he hasn't contributed any drafts of any speeches.

Q How wide has -- has he solicited outside help? You said hundreds of people? I mean, literally do you mean that?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, he's the President of the United States and there are a lot of people who would like to believe that they can influence the Inaugural, so a lot of people send their ideas. I get, frankly, in my mailbag at least dozens of letters from citizens who have got great ideas for the Inaugural address. I think that's just a feature of --

Q Did he solicit, though, from a circle of -- whatever the circle is -- did he solicit outside views? Has he solicited outside views?

MR. MCCURRY: He has talked to a number of people outside the White House about the proper tone to set. He listens carefully to what people say. But the address that he gives surely will be the address that he himself authors.

Q Mike, has the President been watching the Supreme Court case today regarding the constitutionality of drug testing for political candidates?

MR. MCCURRY: He has not, but he is aware of the fact that the Justice Department is a party in that argument.

Q Mike, has the U.N. consulted the U.S. government about the letter bombs at the U.N.?

MR. MCCURRY: They have because the United Nations has to formally invite participation by U.S. law enforcement authorities. And my understanding is both the FBI, ATF, perhaps others as well, have been assisting the United Nations in investigating the discovery of those letters.

Q Back to the District again. You mentioned that the President was likely to keep speaking about it, going forward. What kind of role is the First Lady going to play to make sure that the program actually works?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, she will play the role that she plays as First Lady and continue to be active as a member of this community and continue to do the things like she did the other day.

Q So will she be speaking about it? Will she be -- what sorts of programs is she going to highlight?

MR. MCCURRY: She no doubt will continue in her capacity as First Lady to express her concern for the community in which she lives.

Q But, Mike, you're making it sound as if it's just like what she does is equal to anything else she does. But in terms of her priorities for these next four years, is this going to be one of them?

MR. MCCURRY: She has addressed herself to some of her priorities, but she considers a number of things within her capacity as First Lady. And every time she says anything about any subject everyone rushes off to write some new thing about some new role. I mean, she's the First Lady and she's expressed concern for the community for quite some time, and for the people who live in it, especially the children of the District. And you can well imagine that she'll continue to reflect those concerns in her work.

Q Mike, when will the President start thinking about ambassadorial appointments, and particularly the appointment to Japan?

MR. MCCURRY: He already has and we will make the announcements when they are ready to be announced.

Q Will those be soon?

MR. MCCURRY: They'll be in due course, but I wouldn't -- on the order of magnitude we're working right now on sub-Cabinet level positions. That's where the President's attention has been focused, with the exception of several key independent agencies and others in which there are a more timely need for appointments.

Q What's up for tomorrow, if anything, and when can we expect a briefing on what the President will be doing this weekend?

MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing on the President's public calendar as of yet for tomorrow, but as was the case today, you never know where good news will come from. So if we have some good news, we'll no doubt try to make it.

Q And a briefing about the weekend activities?

MR. MCCURRY: The President's calendar for the weekend is starting to take shape and maybe we can do -- sometime tomorrow afternoon we'll walk through on what we know on the schedule to date -- with the understanding that it being Wednesday tomorrow it could conceivably change by the time we reach the weekend. But at least people will have some sense of what he's going to be up to.

Q Mike, along those lines, you may have done this already, but when you do that will you be able to supply information on access to this place?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll brief you on credentialing. Lorrie McHugh has been working on that with a number of people here and trying to coordinate credential requests with the Presidential Inaugural Committee. So we can try to get as much detail as we have on that.

Q How will we get into the front area to listen to his speech if we're with the regular White House press?

MR. MCCURRY: We're working on a plan now and what events are pool, what events are credentialed by pick, how we can get access. But there will be some restrictions. Some of these will be pool only coverage for prime access. You know, they're all obviously very public events.

Q Can she also find out, Mike, whether we can come in through the Northwest Gate that morning, or whether we should come around the back?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll see if we can find out about logistic arrangements and then brief you in greater detail.

Q Also you mentioned -- did you mean to say there would be a briefing on the speech itself at some point?

MR. MCCURRY: At some point I think there will probably be --

Q Could we do that before the close of business on Friday for those of us who have to write weekend pieces about the upcoming speech?

MR. MCCURRY: It depends on how accurate you would like it to be. (Laughter.) By Friday afternoon I can give you a little more of the gibberish that I just gave that will more closely resemble the speech that will actually be delivered. (Laughter.) It will still be gibberish no matter how you look at it.

Q Do you anticipate briefings over the weekend for any reason?

MR. MCCURRY: Gee, I hope not. I don't anticipate it. I anticipate going to parties and stuff like that. If the need arises and there's news in the world, we will always respond to it accordingly, but I'm not anticipating much activity here. The President will be out and about at Inaugural events, enjoying the opportunity to be with his friends and family and supporters and average American citizens. And most of those events will be open for coverage and most of them will speak for themselves and don't need to be amplified by the lowly likes of me.

Q Will there be an advanced text for Monday?

Q -- media center --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, there will be -- the Inaugural Committee will have a fully functioning media center down on the Mall, and I'll be there tomorrow afternoon myself. I suspect that that's where you'll best find out about what's happening in and around the city in connection with Inaugural activities -- a good job of keeping people abreast of developments over the weekend. We, of course, will be responding to the weighty matters of the day. And hopefully there won't be many this weekend.

Q He is going to the tents for the big intellectual -- Whoopi and Oprah and --

MR. MCCURRY: Is Whoopi going to be there? Is she one of them?

Q Telling their life stories.

MR. MCCURRY: Is she one of the great thinkers who's going to be sharing thoughts? Got something else to do this weekend.

Q Mike, in '92 there was like an open house the morning of the Inaugural. Is there anything like that this time?

MR. MCCURRY: I will have to check further. I clearly don't know because I would be telling you if I knew. So we'll do a scheduled briefing on the President's activity over the weekend, do it sometime tomorrow afternoon, and one of my very talented people here will make me look less silly than I look right now.

Does someone want to put me out of my misery and shoot me?

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.

END 2:05 P.M. EST