THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:50 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, ladies and gentlemen. I think many of you are aware of how fond I am of House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich. And I watched him struggle through his briefing yesterday and I felt bad for him. I felt even worse for him after I saw him on the evening news last night -- did you guys see him on the evening news, sweating away on a treadmill? (Laughter.) No, they had a whole thing about him -- he was running on his treadmill and sweating and looking all out of sorts.
Q The President doesn't sweat on the treadmill, is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: So I looked into this matter of his trying to explain the budget situation using the map yesterday, and I said, I've got to help John Kasich, because he's a good guy and the guy needs some help. (Laughter.) So I'm going to explain to you what he was trying to explain yesterday, because I think he confused everybody, including Senator Domenici, who was there.
Now, he was making the point that we start over here -- (pointing to map) -- Washington, D.C., where we've got in 1993 annual budget deficits of $290 billion. And under Bill Clinton's leadership we have now reduced that federal budget deficit by 63 percent, which it gets us all the way over here to Denver -- $107 billion deficit this year. So we start right here in Denver and we're starting together, although I think that the Congressman got all caught up yesterday about assumptions. I think what he was trying to say was, well, if you look at OMB assumptions and CBO assumptions -- we're starting in Denver and Clinton has got a head start because he's up in Telluride somewhere, something like that. (Laughter.)
So we're like right up over there, just a little bit of a difference. Now, the point is -- (laughter) -- that we've come from here to here.
Q What is the point?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the main point is if we hadn't taken the action in 1993 to launch the President's economic program and make this journey two-thirds of the way across America, in closing the budget deficit, we'd be all the way back here in Nova Scotia. Actually, we'd be $2.5 trillion greater in debt by the year 2002; we'd be in London now. (Laughter.)
So what we're going to do is we're going to start off here in Denver together, and the President's going to get going -- when we get out here to Utah, we're going to drive at 55 miles an hour. And the Republicans, if they feel like they're behind us, we'll let them put the pedal to the floor and catch up with us. And then by the time we get rolling through Nevada and get into the great Golden State and go through the Golden Gates, the budget will be balanced. I think that's what the Congressman was trying to say yesterday.
Q It could be, but as I recall yesterday's deficit numbers, doesn't it seem like you're going to start in Denver and head to San Francisco by way of Chicago?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we are going to take -- look, we're going to take a little detour up here to Boulder, okay. (Laughter.) But that's just for one fiscal year. But look at the distance we made. You start here in Washington, and look at the hard choices --we had to eliminate 200 federal programs along the way to get all the way out here. You know, along about Columbus, Ohio, which is where Gene Sperling tells me the Michigan Wolverines routinely pound the Ohio State Buckeyes -- just to make matters worse for Congressman Kasich -- you know, we made all these hard choices along the way, and they're going to be hard choices from here to there, too. But we look forward to making them together in the spirit of bipartisanship that the President talked about yesterday. And we look forward to a meeting on Tuesday where we start that hard work together.
Q Change of metaphor.
Q Thanks for clearing this up. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Is it all clear now?
Q Where's the bridge?
MR. MCCURRY: The bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge. Right there. The Golden Gate Bridge is the bridge to the 21st century and to the balanced budget -- 2002; be there. And there will be no fog because all will be clear.
Q Does this mean the Democrats are giving up on the South? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, but it looks like we must have had a lot of extra money in our surface transportation budget for Interstate 80. That's what I make out of that. (Laughter.)
All right, we're all set.
Q Moving on.
MR. MCCURRY: Moving on. Thank you. Remove visual aid.
Now, moving on to more profound matters. More profound matters -- some personnel announcements. Ready for that?
The President is very happy, and a lot of us here at the White House are very pleased that he will today announce his intention to nominate Kitty Higgins -- Katherine Higgins, Kitty Higgins -- who is currently our Cabinet Secretary, to be the Deputy Secretary of Labor. She now serves as Assistant to the President and runs the Cabinet Affairs staff here. She served prior to her position here at the White House as Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Labor. Before that, she was Administrative Assistant up on the Hill to Sandy Levin, worked as the Democratic Staff Director for the Committee on Labor and Human Resources up on the Hill; has a wealth of experience in labor policy, labor related issues that are in the purview of the department.
The President is happy to announce that Thurgood Marshall, Jr. will replace her in the position of Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary. He's currently Deputy Counsel and Director of Legislation Affairs in the Office of the Vice President.
The President is also announcing today that Maria Echaveste will become Assistant to the President and Director for Public Liaison. She joins the White House from the Department of Labor, where she is the Wage and Hour Administrator currently.
Alexis Herman, by the way, with that designation, will take the title, Counselor to the President while she awaits her confirmation in the Senate.
The President also announced that Craig Smith will leave his position as Co-executive Director for the 53rd Presidential Inaugural Committee. He'll become Assistant to the President and Director for Political Affairs.
Two deputies in the Office of Political Affairs the President appoints today -- Robert Ben Johnson; he'll be promoted to Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Public Liaison -- I'm sorry, that's a Public Liaison announcement. He served as senior manager to the Mayor of the District of Columbia before coming here to the White House. So he will be Deputy in Public Liaison.
And then two new deputies in Political Affairs -- Minyon Moore who is currently the National Political Director for the Democratic National Committee will serve as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Political Affairs.
And Karen Skelton will also become Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Political Affairs. She currently runs the political affairs shop for the Vice President. So she moves there.
And in addition to that, I think some of you have met already Beverly Barnes, who is going to be a senior adviser on Erskine Bowles' staff. She will take on the role of being a press liaison for Erskine and will do a better job of scheduling his press interviews than Mary Ellen did, she promises. (Laughter.) No, she would be -- Mary Ellen had been graciously filling in in a role helping Erskine do some press chores in the interim, and Beverly will now be taking on that assignment.
We've got paper coming on all that with additional biographical information on the new group of people that will add considerably to the depth, talent, skill, insight, persuasiveness, integrity of the current White House staff.
Q Did you say who the new Cabinet Secretary is?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. That will be Thurgood Marshall, Goody Marshall.
And with that, what else? Want more?
The President talked to Chancellor Helmut Kohl today. They had a good call, talked about European security issues, issues related to the future of NATO. You will see in coming weeks, as we get closer and closer to the Madrid Summit in July, a regular pattern of consultation that the President will have with other major European leaders. Obviously, we announced today that he will be seeing soon President Yeltsin, a meeting that's very important.
The President had a very good 40-minute meeting with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and the Vice President, received a thorough briefing on the work the Gore-Chernomyrdin has done. They talked about a number of the issues that have been identified for the agenda of the Helsinki meeting coming up. And I will leave it to the Vice President to give you a further readout on that meeting and on their discussions when he has his press conference shortly.
Q Did the Chancellor and the President discuss whether there should be this five-power meeting? Or did the President rule that out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they talked about the concept, because the concept has floated publicly, but I will restate our view that it is very important for individual members of NATO and leaders within NATO to continue the pattern of bilateral consultation that you've seen underway.
We have announced today that President Clinton will see President Yeltsin. President Chirac has just recently completed his own meetings in Moscow with President Yeltsin. Chancellor Kohl has seen President Yeltsin fairly recently, may see him again soon. I would not be surprised if Prime Minister Major at some point is in contact as well.
I think any activity around the subject of the future of Europe has to be consistent with the goals the Alliance has identified and also consistent with our goal of a productive working relationship that deepens as a result of the sum of the conversations that NATO Secretary General Solana has been having with the Russian Federation related to the issue of the Russian-NATO charter.
Q Would a five-power meeting help or hurt that progress?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if there were to be a meeting, it would only occur if it would be helpful to that process.
Q Mike, in the meeting, did Chernomyrdin elaborate at all on Yeltsin's health? Did they discuss that at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I will leave that to -- you can have an opportunity to question the Vice President and the Prime Minister on that subject. Based on our understanding and based on those that we've talked to who have had an opportunity to encounter President Yeltsin, he is vigorous, obviously recovering from his recent surgery, but pursuing a very active program.
Q Mike, the President simply said that there were a number of reasons why Helsinki was chosen as a site, but he didn't elaborate on what they were -- one of the basic questions being was it at least in part due to President Yeltsin's health that Helsinki was chosen.
MR. MCCURRY: He did not elaborate on them and said there were several reasons, lest you concentrate on only one explanation of why we go to Helsinki. There are many good reasons why that is the proper venue.
Q And what would those be?
MR. MCCURRY: Good diplomatic reasons.
Q Would President Yeltsin's health be one of the reasons?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that as the President said, this is a venue that works satisfactorily for both Presidents. There might be any number of reasons why it would be more convenient and perhaps somewhat easier for President Yeltsin to journey to Helsinki, but I would leave it to the Russian Federation to address that matter.
Q Is the President thinking of adding on other stops before or after Helsinki?
MR. MCCURRY: He, given his joy in journeying, would no doubt like to. But at the moment we schedule only a mission to Helsinki and return. Remember, we have a very active schedule that we've already identified for business in Europe as we look ahead to the first half and shortly after the first half of 1997, certainly leading up to the Madrid summit. But we've also got very important sessions scheduled with the European Union in the Netherlands in May. So we will be in Europe at least -- one, two, three times in the coming months.
Q In his speech last year in Detroit about NATO expansion, the President said that NATO expansion -- talking about how important it was -- said that it wouldn't be cost-free. I don't know that he's ever put any kind of estimate -- what did he mean by it would not be cost-free? What will it cost?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you cannot determine a cost absent knowledge of who perspective members are going to be because, remember, it is an alliance in which each members pledges mutual defense of the other. So what capacity you would -- each individual nation that would be a member of the alliance would bring and what would, in turn, be the shared cost within the alliance of adopting that type of security umbrella is something you can only determine after you know exactly what you're talking about in terms of additional membership.
Q So if you had an idea of maybe who the first three would be -- say, just like Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not at all going to speculate on what the costs would be, nor who might be likely candidates for first membership. It's been widely speculated upon and the speculation's probably based on reasonably informed opinion, but --
Q Is the President concerned that -- he's going forward with this almost as it's a fait accompli, but there is opposition to NATO expansion. Is he concerned that he hasn't made the case completely to the American public?
MR. MCCURRY: He is not going forward on his own, 16 nations that are members of this alliance are going forward together, based on the consensus process that exists in what is one of the most successful treaty alliances in the history of the world. And that decision-making and that argumentation has occurred over a long period; the President committed to the course of expansion several years ago and the work that we have done, I think, so far, in nurturing closer relations with former members of the Warsaw Pact, with the Russian Federation and others demonstrates the utility of building these closer relations.
We've made Europe a far more peaceful place. We have eliminated tensions that would otherwise conceivably exist between nations, particularly in the Central European corridor. We are bringing the benefits of less-costly engagement as we think a forward deployment of forces along what used to be the premier division in the world between two adversarial blocs.
So there has been enormous benefit here to creating a new NATO that has adapted to the post-Cold War era. And the President will argue forcefully those benefits, and the Secretary of State is out in the country today arguing matters like that. He will be, too.
Q At what point -- on that same subject again, at what point will we know about how much the United States' bill will be in admitting these additional members?
MR. MCCURRY: That would be -- you remember that adding a member to NATO is, in effect, an amendment to the existing North Atlantic Treaty. So bringing on new members would trigger a ratification process in our United States Senate, which I'm sure would be subject to lengthy and very close scrutiny by the members of the Senate. So as we look ahead over the course of the next year, there will be an extensive debate on exactly that kind of point and extensive debates about what the real costs would be and what the real benefits would be of expanding NATO and retooling NATO so it meets the challenges of the post-Cold War era.
Q Does the administration have any kind of working estimate as to what --
MR. MCCURRY: There are different types of analysis of what the implications are of membership, but since they -- that would be putting many, many, many carts in front of the horse to begin judging exactly what the costs and the budgeting would be for that. They have not done much of that. Remember that there is a significant U.S. presence in Europe now attached to existing configuration to meet our current Treaty obligations. And what additions would incur at the margin with NATO expansion will be calculated presented to the American people and to the Senate and the Congress at the proper point.
Q Did Marsha Scott mislead the congressional investigators? And if she did, is the White House taking any steps to hold her accountable for that?
MR. MCCURRY: I understand that she has issued a statement indicating that she has not -- she did not.
Q Released through the White House Press Office?
MR. MCCURRY: She provided it to one news organization making the inquiry last night. And, Barry, you can get a copy of that if anyone needs it.
Q The White House is satisfied with her statement?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any information that disputes her statement.
Q Is that different than the one put out through the lawyer? That statement?
MR. TOIV: That's the statement.
MR. MCCURRY: Barry says it's the statement that was provided by her lawyer to the Associated Press.
Q Was there any White House effort to assess the merits of either the charge that she did mislead or her claim that she did not?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I'll have to take it.
Q Senator Lott issued a very harsh statement in regard to the President's budget, and I wonder to what degree do you think this sets the prospects of a bipartisan --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has responded and responded gently enough to indicate that we don't consider it any significant setback in what we look forward to as ongoing discussions with the Majority Leader and others over the FY '98 budget and the prospects for a balanced budget agreement.
The Majority Leader had a good conversation by phone with the President prior to making that statement. I think the President accepted it and knows that there certainly will be some differences but also knows that there's ample opportunity to come together to begin working on the details of the balanced budget agreement and to work through the differences that do exist.
Q Mike, the U.N. next week is going to put out --
Q Wait, Peter, may I follow on Bob's question?
Q Go ahead.
Q Trent Lott said that the President -- he thought the President was taken aback by what he had to say. Is that accurate?
MR. MCCURRY: The President said nothing to me indicate he was taken aback by it. He indicated that he told the Majority Leader he thought that they'd be able to work through any differences that do exist. He seemed to take it fully in stride.
Q Mike, is anyone in the administration planning to intervene to try to prevent the American Airline strike?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've received a correspondence from American Airlines related to the dispute. We are monitoring the dispute very closely. If the parties believe that our participation could help, we obviously would consider how we could play a more constructive role.
Q Meaning both parties -- currently one does, one doesn't.
MR. MCCURRY: Both parties would have to see a constructive role for us to play in order for us to be useful.
Q What is the White House position on the situation in Ecuador? Several men are claiming the presidency. Is the White House supporting one specific person, and why?
MR. MCCURRY: We are not -- we are reminding everyone that the rule of law applies, that it is important for constitutional processes to be followed. We obviously are monitoring the situation in Ecuador as they work through the statements. But we are encouraged by the statements been made by the military leadership of Ecuador indicating that they acknowledge the importance of the constitutional processes, and don't intend to play any role in the resolution of the current disagreements about the presidency.
Q Mike, the U.N. next week is going to ask -- issue a general appeal for humanitarian aid for North Korea. How's the United States going to respond to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we do anticipate that they will issue such an appeal. They made one last year. We will consider it as we always do in the case of humanitarian appeals. Last year, I think, we ended up providing about $8.2 million in response to an international appeal from an authorized international organization.
And I think, again, pending the formal request for humanitarian assistance, we would certainly take it on board as we did last year. We're not aware that they are any significant disagreements with that approach with respect to our very close ally, the Republic of Korea. And we would clearly consult closely with the Republic of Korea on such a matter.
Q How do you think the situation now there compares to what it was last year?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that there is evidence that in some respects the condition has worsened as far as famine and food shortages. They, of course, have been facing some natural conditions that have exacerbated that, but they also have to deal with the inevitable consequences of having a command and control economy that does not allocate resources in a way that can provide, in this case, basic sustenance to citizens of the country.
Q Regarding the Tuesday meeting on the Hill between the President and the leadership, do you expect any specific preliminary agreements to come out of it Tuesday?
MR. MCCURRY: No. In fact, the President would caution everyone to understand that this is not the end of a conversation, it's simply the beginning of a conversation. And it certainly will continue. It would be wildly improbable that you would reach a balanced budget agreement at one meeting. There will be a lot of work that lies ahead as we work through differences, but you've heard the President often suggest that we need to have bipartisan processes that can address these differences and allow the Congress and the Executive to move forward. And we hope at least coming out of this meeting is the beginning of that type of process that can lead to a combination consensus that would advance the goals that Republicans and Democrats in the Congress share with this Democratic President, that we have a balanced budget by the year 2002.
Q But could they not agree at once on a few things they can agree on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't believe that Majority Leader Lott when he announced the meeting today suggested that that would be an objective of the meeting. They want to identify areas in which we know we can work together, see what kind of progress is possible in the short term, perhaps have some conversations about how we enter into a process that resolves the differences that exist.
Q Does the President see this as the first negotiating session?
MR. MCCURRY: The President sees it more as a way of organizing the work to be done as we look ahead. He's delighted that the members of Congress and the leaders of the Congress want to move quickly in the discussion about how we do some of those things that the American people sent the President and Congress here to Washington to do, and that's certainly the type of conversation he looks forward to Tuesday.
Q During the last round of budget negotiations, Leon Panetta was the chief point man in most of the negotiations with the Budget Chairman. Who is going to be that point person this time?
MR. MCCURRY: I just said that this is not a negotiating session and I'm not aware that they intend to convene negotiations as an objective of this meeting on Tuesday. The President and, I suspect, the Vice President will be the participants in the meeting on Tuesday and then we'll see what develops following the meeting on Tuesday.
Q Would Erskine Bowles or Frank Raines -- who would lead the -- if it gets down to the negotiating phase?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be a number of people from the White House who would be actively involved when we get to the serious budget discussions. And there will be different types of people at different levels, as there always is and always will be.
Q In terms of the schedule for next week -- Monday, Annapolis, Tuesday, this meeting --
MR. MCCURRY: Monday, Annapolis. Tuesday -- by the way, I do not anticipate the President doing anything tomorrow afternoon. Monday, he goes to the Maryland General Assembly. Tuesday, we obviously have the congressional meeting. We've got it listed on our schedule at 11:30 a.m. I thought it was 11:00 a.m. Can you guys double-check that? Thought they said 11:00 a.m. What did Lott --
Q Lott said 11:00 a.m.
MR. MCCURRY: -- 11:00 a.m. So we've got -- on Wednesday, the President's going to receive the final report from the Vice President on the aviation safety and security issue, the panel that was put together to study that issue. There's been a lot of speculation in advance of that of what's in it, so I know there will be interest in that.
Thursday at a time that is remaining to be announced, he will attend funeral services for Ambassador Harriman. He'll also meet later in the afternoon with Prime Minister Netanyahu and we intend at the end of the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to have a press availability with all of you. Friday, no public events scheduled. And to my knowledge, no travel scheduled.
Q What is he going to tell the General Assembly on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: He is going to talk a bit more directly about some fo his education agenda. Maryland is a state in which Governor Glendening has recently advanced some ideas about using HOPE scholarships similar to the program the President's talking about, so he will continue to press his argument about why education has to be the focus and much of the work we do in the coming months. And then he will do -- he will be in a position now to make that argument in the context of resources that the federal government can make available, and direct challenges that we are making to individual state governments.
So it will be an opportunity in front of a state legislature to talk about the shared responsibilities that all of us have when we address an issue as important as education and one that depends so much on state and local government direction.
Q Mike, is he going to do anything else in Annapolis? Is it just an in and out? And is he going to meet with the House and Senate leaders separately?
MR. MCCURRY: As of right now, just down and back. And, Paul, we'll let you know and let -- particularly for local folks -- let people know what they've got, and for Carl, and for Harris, and for everyone else out there.
Q What's the next state legislature after Maryland? Do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: We have no schedule -- as I said, no schedule that I'm aware of on Friday, but we'll keep you posted.
MR TOIV: It is 11:00 a.m. You're reading from a draft.
MR. MCCURRY: It is 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Q Mike, you had mentioned yesterday and again this morning the possibility of him going out to Andrews tomorrow night. Is that --
MR. MCCURRY: I just said a minute ago I don't anticipate anything on Saturday.
Q Radio address. He's going to do that tomorrow, right?
MR. MCCURRY: He sure is. Didn't we put it out?
MS. GLYNN: He's tape it today and we should have a transcript out as soon as the briefing is over.
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's done.
Q What about the subject?
MR. MCCURRY: The subject is the anniversary of the telecommunications bill, but more importantly, remember the time that you saw Al Gore and Bill Clinton running around and stringing wires at Net Day in California? Remember that? That has been but one example of a lot of progress that the Department of Education is going to report on wiring America's classrooms to the Internet. So a newly released report will be newly released tomorrow in the radio address.
Q Does he think that the telecommunications bill has been successful in lowering costs to consumers -- cable costs?
MR. MCCURRY: You will hear him say some important things about the success that has arisen with respect to V-chip and others. It will lead -- competition under the telecommunications bill will lead to advances for consumers. We didn't expect that they would happen all at once or within one year. But the competition arising under that bill, if you look at a range of telecommunications services, is advancing and will advance. And we continue to believe it is a good deal for the consumer.
Q Mike, did he get Senator Helms' letter about opening up -- allowing U.S. news organizations to open bureaus in Havana?
MR. MCCURRY: The President was very impressed by that letter.
MR. MCCURRY: Very impressed.
Q Is there any new policy announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: As we normally do if we have a new policy to announce, we will announce it. And he's got -- he has a recommendation from his national security advisors, based on a very close interagency review of this issue, and to my knowledge he has not acted on it yet.
Q He's going to release that in an exclusive interview with Wolf, right? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It would be only -- no, we're going to give it to MSNBC -- (laughter) -- thought that would be better.
Anything else before we close it out? I don't know want to -- you all will be interested in the Vice President and Prime Minister's press conference. And we may have other things. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:21 P.M. EST