THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start -- we're going to have a written statement that will be out very shortly on some action that the Treasury Department is doing to expand the application of the President's 1995 executive order against the Colombian drug cartels. They basically, through the Office of Foreign Assets Control, can go out after the known assets that belong to individuals and businesses associated with some of the kingpins of the Cali Cartel.
They've announced today that they've identified 78 new persons and businesses that they will target for some of their enforcement activity. And that will, obviously, contribute greatly in our efforts to control what is a source of roughly 80 percent of the cocaine that comes into the United States. Obviously, this action demonstrates the President's continuing resolve to break up these cartels and to deprive major narco-traffickers of profits that are aimed at the expense and destruction of America's youth.
Q Here or there? Assets here in the U.S.?
MR. MCCURRY: They are held in different ways and they can capture the transactions at different points by identifying and targeting the commercial activity that exists between the individuals and the businesses. Treasury is doing more on this today and I wanted to call your attention to it and we are going to have a statement on it.
Q -- what he announced at the U.N. in '95, am I correct?
MR. MCCURRY: Correct. And we, in a sense, have added now 78 entities to the list that we're looking at. I think that brings the number up to about 350, 360, something like that, total. But we've got a statement and a fact sheet on that coming.
Q Is it the same sanctions then --
MR. MCCURRY: It's the same process by which we attempt to retrieve the assets of the entities. So they're just expanding the application of that under the terms of the initial executive order. No change to the way they do it, just an additional identification of people that they can target for their activity.
Q Mike, the President said this morning that he hoped all the ethics inquires, investigations involving the Speaker would simply go away. Is he doing anything to speak with Democrats on the Hill to make them go away?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we have not taken any role in that effort. That is a matter that the House has to deal with appropriately. The President expressed today something that he has said often, which is we need to create a climate and a spirit in this country that allows the elected leaders of this nation in a bipartisan way to go about doing the people's business. And the President is anxious, as he anticipates his inauguration Monday, to get in the business of doing the people's business. And all he suggested today is that the sooner that the Congress is disposed to come together and work on the business of the people with energy and enthusiasm, the better off the American people will be. And he's just hoping that that day is hastened.
Q Why hasn't he gone to the Democrats and said, hey, you guys, back off a little bit, we need to stop concentrating on this and concentrate on some other things?
MR. MCCURRY: This is an internal matter for the House. They have to resolve it to the satisfaction of the House. But the President has to work with the House of Representatives and the Senate to do the people's business, and he's anxious to do that, and he hopes that Congress is prepared to meet him and to begin doing that work soon in this next session.
Q Several reports over the past few days of letter bomb scares at the U.N. and then security lapses in terms of keeping after the new Secretary General and things like that. Is the President monitoring these sorts of activities? Has he expressed any concern about security at the U.N. or a lack thereof?
THE PRESIDENT: The President is aware of these efforts to terrorize and intimidate. The President's views on terrorism, I think, are well-known to everyone in this room. He believes we have to marshal the forces of the international community to do war against those who would bring this type of violence.
Obviously, the United Nations has got security procedures. U.S. law enforcement officials have been invited by the United Nations to participate in the work, to investigate the items that have been found in New York. But, obviously, the system worked because these items were discovered, they did not do any damage to any individual. But they remind us how important it is to be vigilant and how important it is to continue to invest in resources that would allow us to combat terrorism.
Q What about the Secretary General reports that security detail -- you know, he managed to slip away from the security detail or was missing or whatever?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you'll find -- as I refused to do in the case of the President, I would obviously also refuse to decline security arrangements for other important international leaders.
Q Anymore information on the President's weekend plans?
MR. MCCURRY: We have got awaiting for you an all-star line-up that includes representatives of the White House Press Office, representatives of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, representatives of the First Lady's Office, arrayed to take us through all --
Q A raid? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Arrayed splendidly, not in original Oscar de la Rentas, but arrayed splendidly and ready to give you a briefing on what they know about the logistics of this weekend. Now, I will, with that billing, tell you they know precious little at this point because -- (laughter) -- the President's got a big menu of things that he could do this weekend. He has not locked in those items. And the incomparable Barry Toiv -- (laughter) -- Hey, I would be careful about that. He was being teased the other day and in the typically Barry Toiv way, he said, I was just out polishing my silencer. (Laughter.)
Anyhow, what we'll suggest is they'll tell you what they know at this point. The President has got a lot of options this weekend. He has not locked in certain elements of his own schedule. But they also know a little more about the logistics in and around the building. My recommendation would be that we do this today and tell you what we know at this point and then maybe do it again on Friday or later in the week when we firm up some more. And we'll do that immediately at the conclusion of the briefing. One more reason to keep this short.
Q On health care, it's been reported that the White House is considering an initiative to cover children who are not insured or covered by Medicaid. To do so, the White House for the first time would cap premiums on Medicaid.
MR. MCCURRY: That sounds like -- sounds like FY '98 budget.
Q So you're confirming that will be in the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying, it sounds like a question related to the FY '98 budget, which I have steadfastly refused to comment upon. I think everyone knows the President is concerned about the coverage gaps that exist for children. You're aware that we've addressed some of those in previous budget proposals. And I believe, if I'm not mistaken, the Senate Democrats are putting forward some impressive ideas today related to their declaration that health care coverage for kids will be their number one health priority. So that's a good one to stay tuned to, because there's going to be more on that subject.
Q Can you talk about the inaugural address and where that stands and whether Dick Morris gave input, was asked for input, or offered input?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I checked on that, and he's had no role in the inaugural address. As to where we are, the President has elected to use most of today to work on that. He met with some of his own wordsmiths earlier today. And now he's in the Oval and scribbling away all by his lonesome self. And I asked him, how is it going? He said, it's getting there. I said, well, define "getting there."
Q Can we have a picture of him scribbling away?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe later in the week. We'll see.
Q Mike, the Paraguayan Foreign Ministry today issued a communique saying that they deny categorically that the government of Paraguay had authorized or asked anyone to set up a meeting between the President of Paraguay and President Clinton, or set up interviews. And they also say that they have met in various international forums, have exchanged correspondence, the First Ladies get along well. Can you --
MR. MCCURRY: I can confirm all that. We have excellent bilateral relations. I don't know anything about the circumstances of the first part of that statement and, in fact, have not seen the statement. But we do, of course, have excellent bilateral relations with that government. We're in frequent contact with them as they pursue -- as we pursue our interests in the hemisphere and as we follow up on the important work of the Summit of the Americas. We expect those relations to continue.
Q Might the President then stop off in Paraguay on his Latin American --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard -- seen any indication of that, but again, the itinerary is not complete.
Q I would like to get back to the question that was asking yesterday about the brother of the First Lady, Anthony Rodham. Can you confirm that he received an offer?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know anything about the circumstances of what the Boston Globe has reported. He's a private citizen and he's free to comment on that as he sees fit. He chose to with the Boston Globe, and indicated what it is, but I don't have any further information on it.
Q How soon do you expect the President to go to Mexico? Do you expect the trip to be part of the trip to South America, to be separate? Is it before that?
MR. MCCURRY: There are different discussions of exactly those types of scenarios. We don't have anything final for you on that.
Q Has anybody communicated to Tony Rodham that it might be a good idea for him if he in the future might receive an offer of what could be construed as bribery, in the future that it might be a good idea to communicate such an offer to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's under no legal obligation to do that. But as I told you yesterday, the first I learned of this was when we had a press inquiry on it.
Q Mike, in the President's conversations with his friend Dick Morris, if Morris were to offer advice about the inaugural or the address, would the President consider that to be within the private information he talks about and none of our business?
MR. MCCURRY: That's so highly speculative, I can't possibly answer.
Q I'm not sure that's quite speculative. I think that goes to the point.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I think there are people that call the President, talk to him and render advice. We had one Cabinet member who was gracious enough to write an entire draft inaugural address for the President.
Q Who was that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to identify the Cabinet member, but it was pretty good. So far it's better than what we got. (Laughter.) But there are a number of people who have contributed ideas. And, look, this President is -- believes that -- he learns by engaging and talking to people. In the case of Dick Morris, he's got a relationship that is a private and a personal one. And I don't know how he would react to unsolicited --
Q So that an informal role might conceivably be none of our business?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not a political adviser to the President. We've said that over and over again.
Q Incoming or outgoing Cabinet member wrote the draft?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into that.
Q Is his name Bob Reich?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into that. Actually, I'll bet -- let's put it this way, I only know of one instance in which that has happened, but there are probably no doubt others, too. And as I told you, look, I mentioned yesterday that we get -- I get things in my mailbag from people whose lives depend on C-SPAN, and they put ideas in the mail. Frankly, some of them have been pretty good. Thank you, all you people who have sent those.
Q Have you written a draft?
MR. MCCURRY: Have I? I never have time to sit and write anything, unfortunately. I just have to flap my yams here.
Q What Cabinet member did write the draft?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I don't want to --
Q You brought it up. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I was just trying to give you some sense of the high-level input the President is getting on this. What would be more useful to you, since you're interested in the President's address, would be to learn at some proper point who did contribute the best ideas. And we'll know that better when we know what's going to be in the speech. Right? Right.
Q Friday briefing on the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Friday? You're a very optimistic man. Maybe sometime -- we still haven't figured out. Are you going to announce when we might do some briefings on the speech as part of your little deal?
MR. TOIV: I believe you said yesterday that you would try to do it on Friday.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll do a preview on Friday. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, the National Drug Policy Office put out a report yesterday on crackhouses around the country. And there were some 200 that were found in Denver alone. That number seems a little high. Are you surprised by the number, and how did they arrive at that number?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, I am not familiar with that report or how it relates specifically to Denver. If they saw any anomalies in there I'm sure that they would look into it further and inquire about what law enforcement explanation might arise, or what other explanation might arise. But I'd have to check for you on that, I just don't know.
Q Mike, in terms of the D.C. package yesterday -- significant as it was described by the President's aides, why did he not and has not yet himself made any public appearances on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Because he actually has a desire to do some things at greater length in a broader context about the District. Remember, as I said yesterday, the work that the President intends to do related to the District goes beyond just finding financial resources or arranging the swap of responsibilities that we were talking about yesterday. He actually has, as President, a leadership role that he can pay with respect to the District and he wants to exercise that during the course of the coming term. And he will find a number of opportunities to do that as we go along the way.
Q You mean explain about the speech or a --
MR. MCCURRY: I think more than just an event. I think that he thinks that this is work that's going to require his attention on and off as we go certainly through the coming year and probably through all the next four years, to make the nation's capital the city it rightly should be. So he's, I think, got an interest in doing more than one public pronouncement on that subject, and I think he will probably do -- at least do one of those sometime fairly soon.
Q If I could follow that, Mayor Barry's response seemed to be, it's about time. He said the President had paid little attention to the District during his first term. Do you have any response to that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, in a sense, if you go back to when he addressed the District issue at his press conference in December, I think he pretty well answered exactly that and I think his answer spoke for itself at the time. He was very candid on that question.
Q -- DEA agents who left for Cuba this morning. Is this latest incidence of Cuban cooperation on U.S. drug -- you don't know about it.
MR. MCCURRY: Don't know a thing about it. Sorry.
Q You stumped the band. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check and see. We can check further and see on it. I didn't see that in any of my traffic that I looked at today.
Q Mike, we heard a report that Alexander Lebed is telling people in Russia that the White House invited him to the inauguration.
MR. MCCURRY: I hope he's got a ticket. No, he's -- we're aware of that public comment. We're unaware of why he would make that statement. It is the custom and the tradition that the United States extends invitations to the diplomatic representatives of foreign nations here at the embassies in Washington. And that's what we've done. We're following that practice. And to my knowledge, we have not invited any foreign leader to attend the inaugural activities. In short, we're not expecting him.
Q You haven't gotten any sort of request from Lebed?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, but I'm not handling the tickets.
Q Does the President share the view that permanent MFN status for China would in part be contingent on the transfer of Hong Kong and how it's handled?
MR. MCCURRY: That's an issue that I am not -- I do not believe the President has ever addressed that issue publicly.
Q Yes -- so?
Q What's the position?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we've ever taken a position on that issue. The status of MFN is -- the annual renewal of MFN is a major foreign policy issue that will be with us this year. And we customarily deal with that in the late spring, correct?
MR. JOHNSON: Correct.
MR. MCCURRY: So we'll be talking about that sometime in the late spring, no doubt.
Q The President this morning said that Mexico owed the United States a total of $13.5 billion. And I'm told that the Mexican Finance Ministry issued a statement putting it at $12.5 billion. Can you explain the discrepancy?
MR. MCCURRY: Is someone cheating Rubin out of a billion dollars? (Laughter.) If they were, we'd know about it. I'm not aware of what that would be. Let's run that down.
By the way, they retired some other obligations in addition to the one that was extended by the United States through our emergency assistance package. I think there were some things involving the International Monetary Fund and others. So that's all separate.
Q Does the President have any idea about what to do with the half billion in interest we got?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it will be applied to the general Treasury and will help retire the deficit.
Q Do you know what the interest rate was?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you guys know the terms of the -- that's kind of what I remember. I remember there was a fairly complicated formula attached to the provision of assistance, depending on what to use -- one of their words over there -- how the tranches were drawn as the facility was acquired by the Mexican Finance Ministry. So I think it was a variable rate, but it was obviously on terms that would be helpful given the distress that the economy was facing at the time
Q How much money are we losing by Mexico having paid off two years early? Three years.
Q Oh, Marty! (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Looking for that dark lining in the bright, bright cloud, aren't you.
Q Who's designing the President's tuxedo?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's just pulling one out of the closet. I've been told. We've got someone -- we have an authoritative source who will be available on that subject.
Q Also the suit that he's wearing to --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's drawing on -- he's going to wear something in the closet that looks good.
Q Oscar de low-renta. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: What else. I have so previewed this coming attraction, I know you want to get on to it.
Q This being Dr. King's birthday, did the President meet with any of the King family members today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not today. Of course, there will be an appropriate observation of the holiday on Monday. But the President took special note of the event that the Vice President did earlier today, which he thought was very appropriate on the 68th anniversary of Dr. King's birth, that the United States government, working through the Transportation Department, has designated a portion of the Selma Trail as an all-American road which will allow people from all around the United States and all around the world to commemorate the activities of the Selma march in 1965. That was a very fitting and appropriate way to honor the occasion today. The President took note of it with a number of us today and with the President and said he was pleased the Vice President was doing that event.
Q Well, Mike, apropos of that, the information that we got on paper over there indicated that its designation as an all-American road and a national historic trail all happened last year. They left a little bit of confusion as to what was happening today.
MR. MCCURRY: My understand was they were signing the memorandum of understanding today or doing something related to it today. They were taking some action related to it today.
Q -- have said it was designated in '96.
MR. MCCURRY: I can't help you on that. I don't have anything further on it.
Q -- heading out to the Mall today meet with -- and the parade folks?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not making any -- I'm just going to go down there to rally the troops, say hello to some of the people who are helping down there.
Q Coverage? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Open coverage -- no, pool coverage. Pool coverage. I'm going down and declaim myself on various topics.
Q Are you going to the big thinker tent?
MR. MCCURRY: I think my little team may be watching this festival of the absurd and why don't they come on down. We'll do this on background or did you want to do some of it --
Q One more question. A group of doctors and other plaintiffs in California have sued the administration in a class action, saying that the crack-down on doctors bullies them and violates their constitutional rights of free speech with patients about the benefits of marijuana. Could you comment on the suit?
MR. MCCURRY: I will only echo what General McCaffrey said. He indicated that, as we announced on December 30th, we'll continue to enforce existing federal law. The aim of the administration's policy is to ensure that no American gets the wrong message about the dangers of drugs and to ensure the safety and efficacy of all the medicines that are available to the American public through the process that we have to regulate drugs and bring them to market.
Beyond that, General McCaffrey in his statement yesterday did not take a position on the litigation, nor would I. But I think our views on the overall issue, or the underlying issue, you pretty well know.
Q Back to the speech. Is it fair to say that the President views this inaugural address as more important than his first one? And what ideas specifically is he having difficulty putting into words?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that you can measure the relative importance of it. This occurs at a different historic moment. In the 1993 inaugural address the President was embarking on a course that was unpredictable. He was going to attack the deficit, articulate and promulgate an economic program that he hoped would bring benefit to the American people and begin all those things he identified during the course of the 1992 campaign as priorities.
At the time, you couldn't be certain that it would be a success, but through hard work it paid off. It was a success. It's generated many of the achievements that the President has had ample opportunity to celebrate, and became part of his argument for reelection.
But the President, you'll note, did not rest on that record. He said we have to literally build on that record and build a bridge into the 21st century, and thus presents the difference in this address. This is at a moment in which we anticipate the arrival of the 3rd millennium, a new century, a century in which we have every right to be optimistic about America's leadership role in the world and the abundant prosperity that the American people can have here at home, partly because of the hard work done over the last four years.
So it's an important address, but a different address, coming at a different moment. And the President is trying to strike the right tone to call the people of the United States forward to meet the challenges that exist as we prepare for the 21st century. So there is not so much anything difficult about it, but a desire on his part to find the right poetry to inspire the American people as we think about the next century and the next millennium.
And then we will move from that address to the State of the Union address which will be a much more concrete, specific road map of how we arrive at that destination.
So both of these together -- I think maybe one of the things the President is working through in his mind is, how do I both inspire and lead and inform in articulating a vision of America in the 21st century for the inauguration. And then how do I, having hopefully caught the attention and the imagination of the American people, how do we explain how we'll deliver and make good on that vision. So the two of them go together, and in fact, my bet is, just based on the way he's been talking about this speech, that in his head he's writing both of these speeches simultaneously. But obviously he's got to give one of them Monday.
Q Can we go back to Hebron for a second. There were letters that accompanied the agreement that gave, I guess not U.S. guarantees, but U.S. assurances. I wondered if you could perhaps clarify that a little bit.
MR. MCCURRY: No doubt at the State Department today they will be talking in a lot more detail about these. But let me describe what these are in general terms without being specific.
These are not communications from the United States that represent any commitment or obligation on the part of the United States. What they represent and what was well-known in the region during the course of the discussion are the U.S. views of the agreements that the parties themselves have reached. Sometimes it helps both parties for them to have the United States as the mediator and facilitator in this process to restate the nature of the agreement and some of the common understandings that exist. It is safe to presume that these parties would find useful, given the hard work, the difficult work that went into this agreement, find useful a restatement of certain ideas and premises by the United States in a document that was not a binding negotiated document between the two parties themselves.
So that's the nature of the assurances that have been extended. It's really by way of explaining the understandings that exist by virtue of the long, complicated negotiating process itself. Both parties are familiar with what the United States has communicated with the other party.
That certainly put a damper on the proceedings.
Q -- Israel could not fail to live up to the memorandum of understanding without jeopardizing or perhaps affecting its relationship with the U.S.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's -- I have not read all of his remarks, but I've talked with people who looked at them very carefully, and I think when you see some more reporting on the speech that he's giving up at Harvard today, you'll see in the context he's made one thing very clear -- that's something that you heard us talk about after the Cabinet retreat on Saturday -- that we're at a point at which the 1-50 account, as we call it, which is really the part of the federal budget that funds U.S. diplomatic activity all around the world, and it funds some of our assistance as well, is being squeezed.
I'll repeat something that Sandy Berger said over the weekend, that Madeleine Albright is very sharp and crisp when she makes the point that about one percent of the federal budget will account for what is arguably about 50 percent of the historical record that will be written by this administration as it relates to what happens in the world on our watch.
And the point the Secretary is making today is that we have fundamentally important commitments around this world as we engage, because we are not isolated from this world. And to the degree that we squeeze the resources available, certain things will have to -- the money has to come from somewhere. And that's the point he was making. And I think I'd be a little careful about over-reading some of the initial wire reports on that speech. Take a look at the full text, and I think you'll see the argument amplified in greater detail.
END 2:15 P.M. EST