THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:14 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let's get started. l'm sorry I'm late. I just got off the phone -- I wanted to have the latest that Deputy Attorney General Gorelick had, who has obviously been occupied this morning, as several people have in here, with the incident in Atlanta today.
Let me start with the state that the President has asked me to issue on his behalf. His statement says:
Our thoughts and prayers are with the law enforcement officers and other citizens injured this morning, and with their families.
The double bombing at a women's health clinic in Atlanta this morning was a vile and malevolent act. Make no mistake, anyone who brings violence against a woman trying to exercise her constitutional rights is committing an act of terror. It is always wrong and it should be punished severely. Nobody has the right to use violence in America to advance their own convictions over the rights of others.
It is precisely because we take the constitutional rights and individual liberties of all of our people so seriously that I fought for and signed new legislation in 1994 to make it a federal crime to interfere with a woman exercising her constitutional right to visit a women's health center.
We've got the written version of that statement -- will be coming out shortly. There are federal investigators now from the FBI, from ATF, from the U.S. Marshal's Service, and from the U.S. Attorney's Office, who are on the scene in Atlanta and who are beginning to do the forensic work related to investigating the explosions. They are also working very closely with the Atlanta Police Department. I understand that in a very short while they will be making a public appearance down in Atlanta.
The President, at the conclusion of his statement, says, "We will get to the bottom of this and will punish those responsible to the fullest extent that the law provides."
Q How did he find out about it?
MR. MCCURRY: He found out, as we often do, from seeing a television account on it. He watched it with Mr. Panetta, asked that Mr. Panetta immediately contact the Justice Department and get a briefing. Of course, when Leon got a hold of Jamie, Deputy Attorney General Gorelick, she was already heavily engaged in coordinating the Department's response, working with Director Freeh and others to determine what was happening.
Of course, it was -- they even had apparently at one point some of the federal investigators on the scene on the telephone at the time when the second explosion took place. They can tell you more about that during the briefing that they're going to do shortly.
Q You mean the Justice Department?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently the Justice Department had them on the line. They can tell you more about the details of that.
Q Mike, is there any chance the President will come out and say this on camera?
MR. MCCURRY: He may address that -- I think, at this point, we, of course, want to wait and see what establishes -- what facts are established. The President's statement makes no judgment about this incident. Obviously, there are some circumstances here that suggest a reason to be concerned about the right of access to clinics, to medical clinics that care for women. But at the same time, we want to be very cautious in proceeding here until more facts are established by those investigating the matter on the ground.
Q I'm sorry, I didn't understand what you said when you said the President's statement makes no judgment about this.
MR. MCCURRY: It says we make no judgment about this particular incident and what the motive was of the person who conducted this act other than to condemn it, obviously, deplore it as the President has.
Q Has he been told about Cosby's son?
MR. MCCURRY: He's -- I haven't seen him since that news account has developed.
Q And you say we may see him on this?
MR. MCCURRY: I did not suggest that. I said that he's not here now because we're still establishing additional facts on the ground.
Let me do a couple of other things. I want to tell you a little bit more about the President's foreign policy that I mentioned earlier today. He met for about an hour and 10 minutes with his foreign policy team. The President, Vice President were all there. Outgoing Secretary Christopher was there along with Deputy Secretary of Defense White, General Shalikashvili, Erskine Bowles, Larry Summers, Madeleine Albright, who, of course, would be there in her capacity as U.N. Ambassador -- Leon Panetta, Leon Fuerth, Sandy Berger, Strobe Talbott and a host of others to discuss the matters that we were discussing earlier -- the future of a united, integrated Europe and Russia's relationship to that united, integrated Europe, which is one of the key foreign policy areas that the President will be working on in his coming term.
They reviewed policy related to European security, NATO expansion, NATO adaptation, the effort to create a Russia-NATO charter, particularly on the eve of very important discussions that NATO Secretary General Solana will have with Russian Foreign Minister Primakov.
They also discussed a variety of other issues that will soon be on the agenda of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. There is a scheduled meeting of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission February 6th to 8th to be held here in Washington. Part of this meeting previewed items that will be reviewed at that time.
I mentioned to some of you earlier, there was also an opportunity for Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to talk about his consultations in Paris, Bonn, London and Brussels with President Chirac, Chancellor Kohl, Foreign Secretary Rifkind and Secretary General Solana.
Q What's the most important foreign policy objective in the short-term that the administration has?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Sandy Berger was here for you Saturday and identified six key strategic objectives. But they all amount to preserving America's extraordinary leadership position in this world as we enter a new millennium and as the United States of America is literally the indispensable nation. Preserving America's leadership role and enhancing the interests of the United States as we continue to lead the world towards greater democracy, greater freedom, greater human rights and greater economic prosperity will be the central challenge of the coming term for the President.
There are six very specific objectives we have, ranging from nurturing our relationship to Asia to the matters about Europe that we discussed earlier, to dealing with the post-Cold War challenges of terrorism, drug trafficking, international crime proliferation we've identified before, to making sure that we deal with the problems of environmental degradation, and to address some of the key regional disputes that we've talked about in the past -- Northern Ireland, the question of Cyprus, Bosnia, and the Middle East peace process itself, of which we just had a very significant step forward -- all of these things as sketched through in the little briefing you had from Sandy Berger on Saturday represent the President's foreign policy agenda for a second term.
Q Did they adopt any new policies? Did they shift any position -- any instructions to Solana? Any -- what came out of this meeting other than just kind of a talk-fest?
MR. MCCURRY: A great deal came out of it, and I've described it generally for you publicly. A lot of hard work went into molding the diplomacy particularly around the issues that relate to NATO, to Russia's relationship to NATO, to the approaches we will take to our key European allies as we advance the work plan we have for Europe in the coming term. And some of that will become obvious to you as we go through the year, but I'm not going to substantively get into some of the specific directions they talked about today.
The overall policy is well-known; the President has articulated it, we've talked about it here from time to time. We were into today the discussion of how you go out and actually achieve the very specific objectives the President has outlined.
Q If Lebed comes, will the President see him? And do we know yet who invited him? And on a related question, why isn't Russia invited to join NATO? I know it was created against Russia, but, you know, if you really want to unite Europe, why is Russia left out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Russia -- no one is left out. One of the things we've made very clear about the approach we take to NATO is that it is a non-exclusionary process. But the process as we have defined it includes all the things we've talked about in the past here -- NATO defense ministers and foreign ministers discussed in their recent ministerial level meetings. It is very central to the United States objectives with respect to NATO and Europe that we maintain a very close strategic partnership with Russia. That is why we've suggested there have to be parallel discussions with Russia that focus on the promulgation of a special charter that defines that parallel and special relationship that should exist. We see the future of Europe and the future of NATO as being one that is inclusive and one that acknowledges the very special status that Russia plays.
Q Well, its antagonism is understandable, isn't it, because it was created -- NATO was created against Russia? Why don't you just take her in?
MR. MCCURRY: No, NATO was created to protect freedom and democracy of the West at a time we faced a totalitarian threat from the East. And it worked exceedingly well. But we live in a new world now which has new possibilities and we see an inclusive attitude towards Russia towards it. I might suggest to you that the attitudes in Russia about NATO are molded, in fact, because of the experience of the Cold War. And we know that, we understand that. That's why we were especially sensitive to the concerns that President Yeltsin and others have as we address NATO issues. But that's a much longer discussion that we could take a much larger amount of time on. I've got other items that we need to go through.
Q But what about Lebed?
MR. MCCURRY: Lebed -- Lebed is -- we have no information other than he was apparently invited by a member of Congress who got an allotment of tickets. And I can't help on that. He's not -- we don't control that part of the Inaugural Day ceremonies. That's under the jurisdiction of the Joint Congressional Inaugural Committee. So you'll have to direct your inquiries to them. I don't know how he got a ticket. He was not invited by the United States. We have extended the invitation formally to the Russian Federation through the Embassy to the Ambassador.
On the other question, though, if he's here, he is a significant figure who has played an important role in the recent life of Russia and I wouldn't rule out some possibility that the State Department might have contact with him if he is here. But I don't even know if they know at this point what his itinerary is.
Q Do you have a response to the Boston Globe story?
MR. MCCURRY: I've got a couple of others things before we get to that.
Q Can we stay on Lebed for a second? Does the government not have some reaction to this given that Lebed has very recently called on President Yeltsin to resign, called him an old, sick man, said he should step down and --
MR. MCCURRY: They have a vigorous --
Q Is this not a diplomatic issue here?
MR. MCCURRY: They have a vigorous political life in Russia. And we refrain from commenting on the internal domestic dialogue, political dialogue that occurs in Russia. His role is known, his public statements are known. And if was invited by a member of Congress or by the -- or how he was invited is really up to those who are responsible for it. We had nothing to do with it here. That's my point.
Q Actually, this dialogue occurred in Germany. The man said, I'm not a democrat, I'm a realist, I'm a pragmatist.
MR. MCCURRY: You sound authoritative on the views of General Lebed -- more so than me.
Anything else on that subject, other matters?
The President spoke to King Hussein and President Mubarak this morning. He thanked them for their important roles in helping --
Q For how long?
MR. MCCURRY: Short phone calls, each probably about five, 10 minutes each, roughly.
He thanked them for their important roles in helping the Israelis and the Palestinians reach their very important and impressive agreement related to Hebron and other surrounding issues. He stressed in the calls certain to King Hussein and to the President -- and I don't -- they can speak for themselves, but I think there is a common understanding on this that we need to emphasize to the parties that they should provide their maximum effort now to move forward, and that those who support the peace process should lend their maximum support to those who are making and implementing the peace.
They agreed on the significance of the agreements. They agreed that in some sense this was an important obstacle to overcome because it opens up the prospect for future dialogue on issues that the parties themselves have already identified. And, of course, the President also talked in a generic way with no firm dates or specifics set about his desire to see both President Mubarak and King Hussein here sometime soon.
Q What about Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: He has already -- we had said already earlier, the President also hopes to see both Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Q Did he speak to Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: He did. He talked to them -- how many nights ago was that -- night before last.
Q Mike, would there be any order, though, that you would want them to be here -- Arafat and Netanyahu presumably before the other two?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it would depend on what the convenience of schedule would suggest. The President highly values both the King and the President's contributions and leadership in the Middle East peace process. He very often gets ideas himself and insights into the peace process by exchanging views with both the King and the President. He would look forward to doing it in whatever sequence could be arranged.
Lastly, the President's going to travel next week, Wednesday, to Northbrook, Illinois, and to Chicago. Northbrook is one of the North Shore suburbs, I believe, right? He'll go to the Field Middle School in Northbrook, visit a classroom. He'll deliver remarks and Glenbrook North High School, obviously putting a stress on some of the high priority he will attach to the issue of education in the coming year and the coming term. And then he'll be down in Chicago later in the day. We'll have more specifics on the itinerary later.
Q Is this a follow-on to the inaugural speech?
MR. MCCURRY: It's two days afterwards, correct. And it will build on some of the things the President sets forth in the inaugural and preview, in fact, some of the things that he will say in the State of the Union.
Q Can you give us some details on the Perry memo that had something to do with rolling back high-tech weapon sales for Latin America?
MR. MCCURRY: No, don't have any details. I can tell you, as I said earlier today, our conventional arms transfer policy with respect to the hemisphere has to be looked at now in the context of emerging democracy in the region. Every country but one now is a democracy, and that changes the equation. But the Secretaries set forth their views specifically and in a confidential form. And beyond that, I'm not going to get into details. There haven't been any final decisions. We relate it to a conventional arms transfer policy.
Q But would it be safe to say that this would be something that the President would discuss if he were to travel to the region?
MR. MCCURRY: It's safe to say it's a subject that would come up in and around a journey of that nature, no doubt.
Q Mike, that same question -- is there a reevaluation ongoing now of how the U.S. should deal with Latin America in questions like this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there's -- to put it somewhat differently -- there are new opportunities because of the emergence of democracy in the region, the fact that many of these countries have replaced authoritarian regimes with duly-elected democratic leaders. And because of the flourishing of democracy in the region there is an environment in which we have to assess our policies, and in the area of conventional arms transfer that is one of the areas in which we have to assess. Obviously, we're looking at trade, economic issues, a range of other matters with respect to the hemisphere, too, and the President has already indicated a strong desire to keep a closer focus on Latin America as we move through the coming year.
Q On capital gains, Senator Daschle plans to propose legislation to expand relief to small businesses and farmers. Is the President willing to support his proposal or will he be on his own?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in a sense, we already have in the past. The President has been supportive of targeted capital gains tax relief with respect to small businesses. I think there was a Bumpers amendment back -- '93 -- which was incorporated into our own budget in the past.
The President has never philosophically said capital gains tax relief is something I set aside because he's wanted to indicated to the Republican leadership of Congress that he will engage them on that issue. But there are going to be a lot of different ideas about capital gains tax relief, some of them not most likely acceptable to the White House. But, at the same time, there are going to be things that have to be negotiable, and we've got -- in the narrow area of capital gains taxation with respect to sales of homes, we've got some ideas of our own that we put forward in the past.
So there will be area for fruitful dialogue here, but we've got our own ideas about tax relief. I think they're going to be very familiar to you. We're going to be pursuing those immediately and indicating to Congress a willingness to engage on the larger substance.
Q So he supports targeting these two specific areas?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has always taken the view that tax relief ought to maximize the gains to the economy. And you can do that by targeting them on those most in need of tax relief and targeting those on the most -- on those areas that will stimulate the most economic activity. And certainly, the creation of small businesses, entrepreneurship, has been the fastest growing part of our economy and it's easy to understand Senator Daschle's keen interest and the interest of Senate Democrats in that sector.
But we'll have our own ideas on tax reform. We will set them forth, argue for them strenuously, and simultaneously indicate a desire to engage with leaders in Congress on their ideas.
Q Mike, what more can you tell us about the President's plan to give the medal to Senator Dole tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I can say that he's very much looking forward on Friday to acknowledging something that he said frequently during the recent campaign, that Senator Bob Dole is someone who has rendered uncommon service to our nation both in his public life and in his service during World War II. His departure from the Senate is an occasion to acknowledge that, acknowledge a record of fine service. The President looks forward to doing that and looks forward to paying a tribute to a very find American.
Q To what extent does he also see this as a part of the healing or bipartisan theme that he seems to want to stress leading up to the inauguration?
MR. MCCURRY: This is, first and foremost, a tribute to Senator Dole, but it's also going into a weekend in which we hope Americans will be together as we begin in a very real sense a second term and a new government that will be characterized, we hope, by bipartisanship and by Republicans and Democrats coming together, setting aside partisan differences and working together. And then, hopefully in some sense, that will symbolize that. But I wouldn't minimize the importance of the tribute that the President intends for Senator Dole personally.
Q How was Dole first advised of this?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll save all that kind of thing for tomorrow and you will enjoy the story of how that happened.
Q Is the President going to join Warren Christopher for any kind of good-bye ceremony?
MR. MCCURRY: He's done a lot with Secretary Christopher. We had, as you know, shortly after the election a very nice tribute to him over in the Residence. And he has taken several ways privately and publicly to acknowledge his departure. A number of us are going to be going over to pay tribute to the Secretary this afternoon. He's got a departure tomorrow.
He's had, given the enormous personal effort the Secretary put into Middle East diplomacy, a very encouraging step forward, in a sense, something that pays tribute to his very long, exhausting hours of hard work on that issue. And it's a nice thing for all of us here that the Secretary is able to celebrate an achievement like that during his last week in office.
Q Will Senator Dole make remarks? Sometimes Medal of Freedom winners do, sometimes they don't. What's your expectation?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen any final scenario for tomorrow yet. I wouldn't be surprised.
Q What else will tomorrow event consist of?
MR. MCCURRY: We can tell you more about the schedule later.
Q I mean, what's the overall --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the overall -- there will be -- there's been a lot of work done on how do we honor here in the Nation's Capital the veterans of World War II. And the President will be talking a little bit more about how they will use the site that he dedicated in November, 1995 on the Mall for the World War II memorial. There have been some design work done. There are still some outstanding issues, but they will talk a little bit more about how this country will pay tribute in a physical and symbolic way here in Washington to those who served our nation during World War II, which is a very appropriate context in which to also honor the service of Senator Dole.
Q Will he unveil a design?
MR. MCCURRY: They're going to talk a little bit -- there will be some discussion of the design tomorrow, yes.
Q Has he seen it?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether he has.
Q The one that was selected.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if he has or not. I think it's being formally unveiled tomorrow.
Q Is Dole going to any other pre-inaugural or inaugural events?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what his schedule is beyond his appearance here tomorrow.
Q Well, has he been invited to any?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. On the stuff on the Hill -- again, there are so many inaugural activities and some of them are under the jurisdiction of the Congress on the Hill, some of them, of course, here. I don't know the degree to which he's been invited to any of the events. I'd have to check.
Q I mean, at the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's obviously -- tomorrow's event is a pretty significant occasion.
Q I just want to make sure I understand the nature of the event. You said there's going to be some discussion of a design. Is he unveiling a design for the World War II memorial?
MR. MCCURRY: They are finalizing the design for the World War II memorial and my understanding is that it will be presented tomorrow.
Q What more can you tell us about the President's inaugural speech? And also, any comments about Cisneros' draft speech?
MR. MCCURRY: It was good, and it will be good. And other than that, not much change from what I said yesterday.
Q How about a little bit of an outline about where you think he is right now? Some of us may need this as early as tomorrow morning. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: For those of you who have to talk incessantly about the speech that will be covered soon enough -- (laughter) -- I'll just repeat -- I'll repeat what I said yesterday, that the President is working hard on a speech that will set the right tone for America as we prepare for the 21st century. He's thinking ahead to what America should look like and be and what Americans together can do to reach that destination as we build our bridge to the 21st century. He's been working with a number of people here, been getting ideas from a number of people outside the White House. But the speech, at this point, is the one that he is beginning to internalize and write himself as he scribbles away notes as he tries out passages on various folks who wander by the Oval Office.
And he's, I think, comfortable that he's going to be able to set the right tone for this country as we begin the very important work of addressing those items that are on our agenda as we think about the 21st century -- reforming our system of education, preparing kids for the lives they're going to lead in the 21st century, bringing Americans together to address the problems we face in our communities, but also seizing the enormous opportunity we have at a extraordinary moment in history -- not only the beginning of a new millennium, but an era of uncommon opportunity for America, which is now the indispensable nation on Earth.
And I think that the President has thought a lot about how he can talk about that in a way that will inspire the country and that he will hopefully do it in a way that Americans will want to hear more about as we go to the State of the Union which will present a more concrete formula about how you reach that destination.
If anyone asks me that question again so I have to do that riff again, even I will become bored with it. (Laughter.)
Q You're still doing the briefing tomorrow?
Q How about a briefing tomorrow from a certain speechwriting --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we're going to -- tomorrow -- tomorrow afternoon at some point, I'm actually going to bring out some folks that can be a little more helpful that just creating sound bites for overnight news.
Q Do you anticipate the speech will be done by tomorrow afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the speech will be done when the man to be inaugurated walks forward and gives it. And it will quite literally -- and then there will be -- that's because that's the way it becomes the speech that is his and his alone.
Q That speech, unlike almost all of his other speeches, he'll use a TelePrompTer with?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily. We'll see.
Q Mike, can we go back to Carl's question again from a while ago on this John Huang thing?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, this really borders on being outrageous. I mean, you were all here, you covered this debate. You know exactly the reasons why we separated out legal immigration from illegal immigration. You know why we were keen on getting measures that would help this country fight illegal immigration. And the only way we were going to preserve those would be dropping out the provisions that dealt with legal reform. And that -- the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed. They voted 12-6 to do exactly that, because they saw the same situation develop. So it was a legislative strategy, had nothing to do with the so-called sibling immigration issue. In fact, our views are those that were set forth by Deputy Attorney General Gorelick in her March 13th letter, and we can get that for you, and they have not changed. And the suggestion otherwise is crazy.
Q But, Mike, I think the question people are asking is the timing of this. I think --
MR. MCCURRY: The timing had only -- only -- to do with the legislative fight on the Hill. There's not a single person here who worked this issue who knew a darn thing about a John Huang memo. No one had ever seen it before. No one knew it existed to my knowledge here. And they wouldn't have cared if it had, because we wouldn't have asked him at the DNC to provide counsel to the people who were working very hard here on immigration policy. And you know who they all were, and you had them here, and you talked to them every single day. And how you can -- this is one of the very key legislative fights that happened last year. There were enormous fights back and forth over provisions of this bill. And to kind of suggest it somehow had something to do with this -- with the work that Huang was doing on outreach to the Asian community is laughable on its face.
Q Did he ever see the memo and did he ever reply to it?
MR. MCCURRY: No -- did the President ever see this memo? Not to my knowledge. And there's no indication that he did. And it wouldn't have been something that anyone would have taken the time to forward to him. They would have told him that some of the people that he was likely going to encounter at the event coming up cared about this issue, but he knew exactly where that issue was because he was following it carefully and he knew what we were doing on both legal reform -- legal immigration reform and illegal immigration reform.
Q Mike, I got to get a couple things straight. Are you saying that the President's view as of today is that he wants to halt the immigration of brothers and sisters of naturalized American citizens?
MR. MCCURRY: No. His view as of today -- I said very specifically that our view, the view of the administration, has not changed from the time we set forth in the March 13th letter that Deputy Attorney General Gorelick sent to the Hill that there should be a suspension of new applications for entry into the country based on being a sibling to a U.S. citizen, and that, further, you should work to -- there's a considerable backlog of pending applications, and there should be a bipartisan solution to how you do it.
That's the position that we took during debate on legal immigration reform. That has been our position. We haven't even gotten it -- we haven't even addressed the issue of what is going to happen on legal immigration reform as we go into the 105th Congress. The likelihood is nothing, given what the views of Senator Abraham that's taking over the committee from Senator Simpson.
Q So you're just, for the record, the President's view as of today is he wants a, quote, suspension, unquote of immigration of brothers and sisters?
MR. MCCURRY: I will say it again, since you apparently missed me. We have not changed the position that we took in the letter than Deputy Attorney General Gorelick sent to the Hill March 13th. We've got a copy of the letter, and it essentially says -- it says that the administration's view is there should be a suspension of new applications for entry based on sibling status. Correct? Correct.
Q And does he also -- what does he want to do about the backlog of one million?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've got to do -- they have to deal with the backlog, but that's going to require, in any event, some work between the Executive and the Legislative Branch to craft a solution. And that's not going to happen unless we work with Republicans and Democrats. And basically, Senator Lott and the Republican chair of the committee have said it's a non-starter, so it's probably not going to happen.
Q Just to go through your shorthand at the very beginning, what you're basically saying is that --
MR. MCCURRY: These are totally disconnected. It had nothing --
Q -- you agreed to the dropping of these provisions in the legislation just for the sake of getting --
MR. MCCURRY: To get the illegal immigration bill passed. And that was widely covered at the time. And everybody knew that's what the status of the bill was on the Hill because of the opposition that -- there are a lot of people opposed to the legal immigration reforms. Everyone from the Catholic Church to community groups to others.
I mean, it was like we were in hot water with some of our closest supporters because of the position the President took with respect to the reforms of the Jordan Commission, but the President felt strongly about it. And were continuing to work on that, continued to be supportive of the need for legal immigration reform. But that was -- we were going to -- if we maintained that they had to be linked, we were going to lose any possibility of passing illegal immigration reform. And that got us the tougher enforcement measures for border control; it did a lot of good things that eventually ended up in law. We were able to get that through.
And everybody on the Hill knows the history of this. And that is exactly what the history was. And when the idea that this was somehow or other linked to the fundraising matter came up here, people were scratching their heads saying nobody would -- nobody who followed this issue could possibly believe that. And I said, unfortunately, one news organization did, so we got to go out and correct the record.
Q The question about the memo -- the memo says you said he never saw it. It's titled --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I've never seen the memo, and it's a DNC memo, and no one here has anything to do --
Q Can I just ask you a question? It's titled "Briefing for the President of the United States" and the point of contact is John Huang. Why would the DNC put a memo out, it's to be given to him for the dinner and it says "Briefing for the President of the United States."?
MR. MCCURRY: Because they have put -- why have they done it? Because in response to a request of number of news organizations, they've compiled 3,000 pages worth of documents and made them available publicly. That's why that's been available. They didn't put it out -- they made it available to people who have asked. And they provided it to relevant committees.
The briefing materials given to the President are those that are compiled for him by the Staff Secretary's Office. And not to my knowledge do we routinely include any document that comes from the DNC. John Huang no doubt wrote a memo thinking that he could somehow or other get something into the President that would alert him to the concerns of the group he was seeing. And I'm sure that people have told the President, look, here's a group of people and this is among the concerns they're going to have. But we would not rely upon John Huang to brief the President of the United States about immigration policy, thank you very much, because we have some people here who are pretty good at that and who are working on it and knew the issues and knew what the status of the legislation was.
Q Wait, wait, wait. Mike, do you know if this memo was given to the President, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no indication at all it was given to him. I haven't asked him personally whether he recalls ever having seen it, but no one recalls here having ever seen it. And it played no factor in the work that we were doing here on the issue. We knew the issue quite well. And we knew -- by the way, knew the concerns of the Asian American community quite well, too. We didn't need John Huang to tell us that this was an issue that was causing great concern in the Asian American community. I mean, people -- we've had a lot of people here who are working very hard on this issue who knew that and would not have relied upon a memo from the DNC to alert us to that.
But in any event, the notion that there was any aspect of fundraising that impacted the work we were doing on that issue I declare again that it is a laughable proposition.
Q One question I have is, having acknowledged that --
MR. MCCURRY: And look at -- I'm raising this issue because there are -- as we -- at some point someone will actually write about the Republican side of the financial story, although I suggested the other day in response to one -- I got asked about one story -- I said, it's obvious you guys will pursue that, so I don't have to do that here. And I was wrong, because no one to my knowledge did pursue it.
Q Mike, we cover the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about your news organizations.
But you can just easily see where this thing's going to go. People will start connecting dots that are all over the cosmos now and wind up with a lot of very bad stories. And I am hoping that that doesn't happen.
Q You know, Mike, you've got a situation where people -- you've got people who --
Q I'm wondering if it raises concern when -- the apparent access granted to large contributors seemed to raise a concern. The President very strongly defended the fact that access was not influence. Does he have concern that the same access is being granted to people raising the money -- John Huang and others?
MR. MCCURRY: I think his concerns about campaign finance are those that he stated in Santa Barbara at the end of the campaign. He's intending to do something about that, intending to push very hard to achieve campaign finance reform. And we're getting to the point where we'll soon have a measure that will be ready to be introduced in Congress, which is important.
Q You eliminate the need for the money, you eliminate the need for the people who raise it?
MR. MCCURRY: McCain -- well, you're going to have to -- unless we reach a situation which I don't think we're going to reach anytime soon that U.S. taxpayers pay for campaigns in America, which I don't think is going to happen anytime soon, there's going to have to be a way in which we can conduct our democracy and campaigns can -- candidates can campaign.
Q But my point is that those people then who raise the money have tremendous access at least. What's to prevent them from having influence? What's to shield them? What's to keep them from manipulating the presidency?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, among other things, full public disclosure. You know who they are. You can then watch the debate and you can judge whether there has been any influence. And my concern here in this case is that people have put together x and y and not given a truthful account of what actually happening, because there was an extraordinary debate on exactly these issued that was well covered at the time. The role the White House played in that debate was well covered as well. We talked about it here on occasion. People knew what our legislative strategy was. And it's just inaccurate and a disservice to readers to suggest otherwise.
Q We had a situation where we learned only after days of these briefings, we learned because the President personally told The New York Times that John Huang had personally raised with him the issue of his moving from the Commerce Department to the DNC. We've had the situation after days of comments from the Vice President's Office saying that he did not know that he attended a fundraiser; we now learned that he had. So it doesn't seem irresponsible or unusual that we would say to you, could you check and see if the President received this memo from John Huang. Can you do that?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that was unreasonable to check, and I will check on that. I checked as best as I could this morning to see if anyone knew anything about this memo, and no one did because it hadn't played a role in anyone's thinking on this issue.
Q Even though you say it's a laughable proposition, you haven't said -- I don't believe I've heard you say that it's not true. Is it not true?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course, it's not. I mean, obviously, it's not true. It's categorically not true that the fundraising done by the Democratic National Committee had any impact whatsoever on the President's thinking with respect to immigration reform. Those issues were well-known. And I'm not suggesting that those who contributed funds didn't have concern. We know that. They had every right to express that concern. They had every right to have some access to the President and express those views, as would any American.
Q But, Mike, it is true that over the course of seven days the administration reversed its position --
MR. MCCURRY: That is not true. What I'm categorically saying is wrong about the article, among other things -- we took a position, we set it forth. The only thing that changed was that we had to agree, and there was sentiment in Congress to do this, that if we were going to save the illegal immigration portion of the bill we had to separate in the bill the aspects dealing with legal reform from those that dealt with illegal immigration. The only thing that changed was legislative strategy. It was nothing about the policy position underlying it, the change. And the Boston Globe is just wrong about that.
Q But, Mike, when you say you decided to separate it, separating it meant killing it. That's --
MR. MCCURRY: If you were going to pass legal -- if you were going to pass the illegal immigration reform portion of the bill, in the judgment of everyone working the issue on the Hill, you were going to have to take the legal reform stuff and set it aside.
Now, we had still continued to hope that there would be some way of coming back at that issue. And, in fact, I think at one point they explored some ways of trying to revive legal reform, but it was clear it was a non-starter and wasn't going to go anywhere, for a lot of the reasons that it looks like that issue is dead in this session of Congress.
Q The point is on March 13th, as you said, the letter from Gorelick said, we want to suspend this. On March 20th, you said, we want to separate it. That is --
MR. MCCURRY: No, that is not true. We said that we wanted to suspend the applications; that remained our position on those issues.
Anything you want to add on this?
MR. TOIV: Yes. This is one small element of the --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and besides, this was not the only issue that was in legal immigration reform. This was -- if you go back through the work of the Jordan Commission and all the other issues, there were a number of issues that were embedded in the legal reform bill, some of which are still of concern to us, and some of which there still have been discussions about the nuance on how you would deal with some of it.
Q Mike, would this President prefer that DNC officials not write to him about policy matters when they're coming from a political point of view?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, all they need to do is give him information that briefs him on events that they're responsible for. And I think in part it appears to be what this memo was about, that they were trying to say, look, here's a group of people you're going to see, and here are what some of their concerns are. But we have got -- we've certainly got people who work the policy issues and know the policy issues. And the President, in any event, is going to rely on those people who he works with on policy to give him guidance on how to address things like legislative strategy on the Hill or what we ought to do with a particular piece of legislation. He's not going to --
Q The President insulate himself from policy advice from political people?
MR. MCCURRY: No. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. The President doesn't want to insulate himself from the thinking of any American. People have a right to express their opinion in this country, any of them do.
Q Mike, I want to make sure that I understood what you seemed to be saying a couple of minutes ago. You seem to be expressing concern that there's going to be a whole series of reports linking people who sent memos with donations --
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. And we --
Q What's wrong with that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just saying that a lot of -- I'm concerned that there's going to be a lot of misreporting if people start putting together -- they're going to look at chronologies and come up with wrong answers, as has happened in this case. And I'm concerned about that.
Q Why would that necessarily, in and of itself, be misreporting?
MR. MCCURRY: Because it suggests a causal connection between one event that happened here and another event that happened here that does not exist. And that misleads the people who read the article.
Q Mike, sort of related to this -- you talk about the interest of full public disclosure. One way that maybe this would be at least given more sunlight would be if the President -- and he was asked this question right after the election -- would he be willing to commit to allowing all of his fundraisers that he participates in to be open to the press. And he -- we have not yet gotten an answer on that. Could you give us an answer on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can -- we can tell you more about that. Remember we've got a new -- we've got a new DNC Chairman that we're going to elect next week and we've got some things that they're going to be talking about in the course of coming days about new procedures that are underway. And I think that there's not only that question, but there are a number of others related to disclosure, to the screening of contributions, a number of things that we're talking about that would create better confidence in the integrity of the system. And the President's interested in doing that and I don't want to take away from some things that we might even be talking about as early as next week.
Q But if you don't mind my saying so, that's a decision the President -- deciding whether things are open or closed is not up to the DNC, it's really up to the President.
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no, I'm not suggesting otherwise. I'm saying that we have actually been addressing that question and the President may, in fact, himself have some more to say about that as early as next week -- on that and other issues, as well.
Q Another subject? Yesterday, Mike, you said that Dick Morris was not a political adviser of the President. But Morris was on ABC this morning suggesting that, in fact, he was back advising the President and that the President had suggested --
MR. MCCURRY: No --
Q -- had come up with ground rules --
MR. MCCURRY: -- he did not. He said that he -- you know, I've told you he talks to the President from time to time. And I've acknowledged that and the President does. I've described those as personal conversations. Morris said today that he's talking to the President, but he's established ground rules that don't let you -- prevent him from saying anything about what he's doing.
I don't really want to comment on that because, I mean, look, he's in the process of selling a book now and we understand that. I'm not going to respond to each and every interview that he gives. But I'll tell you, he is not playing a role as a -- formally or informally, as an adviser to the President.
Q This bombing this morning, do you think there's any tie-in with the inauguration? Is it a message? Is it going to increase security here in any other way?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to suggest that. I'm not aware of any connection there and wouldn't want anyone to use my denial of same to even suggest something like that.
Q In the coming weeks will the President speak out against the balanced budget amendment and will you all actively try to fight that on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes and yes. And others probably will be, too. It's more likely sooner than that that we'll have statements from members of the President's Cabinet and others that will be testifying on the Hill. And part of it depends on how -- to what degree that is identified as a priority item by the Republican leadership and advances higher on the congressional calendar. So partly we need to wait and see what exactly the climate will be on the Hill.
Q On Lebed, who's the member of Congress who invited him?
MR. MCCURRY: I have absolutely no idea. There are 535 of them.
Q And do you think there's some mischievous-making going on here, given the President's close ties with Yeltsin? I mean, do you think it was some sort of attempt to embarrass him?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing?
Q Is it embarrassing?
MR. MCCURRY: Is it -- no,
Q If Lebed turns up?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President will not be embarrassed and would not be offended by General Lebed's presence. I mean, it would strike him as curious, but that's not -- he's not in control of the people who are awarded tickets to the swearing in ceremony.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:00 P.M. EST