THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:13 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Welcome to the White House and to the daily briefing.
Q Open for questions?
MR. MCCURRY: I am, indeed. Go ahead.
Q A citizens civil rights commission claims that the President has shown no leadership in civil rights problems in this country, no programs and so forth.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is a President who has done a number of things to preserve those efforts to redress past discrimination, to assure that we have affirmatively opened doors to opportunity for those minority Americans and women who have suffered discrimination in the past, and at sometimes at great political cost, as I think that community would know. And he's also used his position as President to address very eloquently the problems of race in our society, encouraging people to bridge through differences, to repair the breaches that exist between groups of Americans. So we would take strong dispute with that report.
Q They were particularly critical of signing the welfare bill, which they felt discriminates --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President sees that as an affirmative step to help many minority Americans who are trapped in a culture of dependency on government assistance -- to provide them economic opportunities and job employment prospects that will improve their quality of life. So we take very strong issue with that characterization.
Q Mike, on Friday, Trent Lott suggested that perhaps the President sit down with members of Congress to discuss some ways to help the D.C. police department. I think his concern arose in the wake of the shooting of the D.C. police officer. Is the President willing to do that or does the White House have any ideas on how to contribute in some way to help the police?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is deeply concerned about troubles that the District faces across the board, not only in law enforcement and rationally sorting out the responsibilities that the District has versus the federal government, to how we can make this a better neighborhood to live in, how we can make it a better home for our federal government, how we can make it a shining Capital City that is an example throughout the world.
He has addressed specific ways in which we could do that in swapping some of the responsibilities between the District and the federal government that would ease some of the financial burden that the District faces, would allow the District to concentrate more resources on law enforcement itself. And the President will certainly entertain any ideas the Majority Leader might have when they meet tomorrow morning, if that's a subject that the Majority Leader wants to raise. We would be fully prepared and interested in a discussion about the District because of the budget proposals we've now made to the Congress about the District -- that it is, particularly in the wake of the Gibson funeral today, would be very appropriate to concentrate some additional focus on the District. The President and the First Lady both will be spending more time proportionally working on problems of the District in the second term.
Q Does the administration have any specific proposals, suggestions, ideas they're kicking around about law enforcement itself?
MR. MCCURRY: The one that most directly impacts on law enforcement in the District is how you would structure penal requirements in the prison system if we carry out the swap of responsibilities and have the Bureau of Prisons involved in administering facilities like Lorton. That has implications for law enforcement, it has implications for sentencing as well, and that is a subject that we've indicated we'll have to have further conversations with Congress about.
Q But no direct, on the street kind of assistance? You know, it was even suggested at one point that troops be deployed in an antidrug war.
MR. MCCURRY: We have not included those types of proposals in our proposals related to the District. We have a much more clear idea of how we can take some of the financial responsibilities the District currently administers, most specifically, the pension system that the District administers, that would then free up budget resources for other types of work. Conceivably, the District government might want to devote proportionately more of its budgeted resources to law enforcement. But that's a decision I think we have to make as we work with Congress and as we work with the District leadership.
Q Mike, what's the President's goal tomorrow in his meeting with leadership on the Hill? Does he want to structure talks at the staff level, or does he want to set a stage for continued face-to-face talks with these folks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President would caution -- and I believe the Majority Leader and the Speaker would also caution -- these are not budget -- this is not the commencement of a budget negotiation. This is an invitation from the Majority Leader and the Speaker to the President to explore those areas in which there is agreement on areas of cooperation as we think about the year ahead, and indeed, as we think about the next four years.
The President will be prepared, obviously, to talk about the importance of a balanced budget agreement, but also items like campaign finance reform; education clearly will be very high on the President's agenda. He'll be talking about health care for children, some of the proposals he's made in the State of the Union address. And we assume that the Republican leadership of Congress will have their own list of things that they would like to raise.
The effort here will be to explore areas in which we can come to some agreement on the bipartisan process that can exist to move these things forward. And the President was very encouraged that following his State of the Union address, the bipartisan leadership reached out to him and said, please come to Capitol Hill, let's sit down and decide how we can move our common agendas forward.
Q What is the follow-on then that you envision?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let's have the meeting tomorrow and see.
Q What's the President's preference when they eventually get into budget negotiations -- a, to have Republicans put their cards on the table at the start and negotiations proceed from there, or go directly into negotiations and perhaps have an earlier resolution?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's preference would be for them to look at the budget proposal we've submitted to the Congress and say, well, this is a credible, effective way of reaching a balanced budget by the year 2002, and move off of that document, entertain any other alternative ideas that might exist.
We certainly hope and expect that the Republican leadership in Congress will come forward with alternative ideas if they don't believe that the President's budget is satisfactory with any specific respect to the items we address in our budget. But that's a process that will have to be defined, will have to be, in a sense, looked at with respect to the congressional budgetary appropriation and authorization process. That's, I suspect, an area in which they will have some conversation tomorrow.
Q Congress has a mid-April deadline for adoption of the budget resolution. When the President submitted his budget last week, Senator Lott said that in six weeks or so there could be a deal. Is that also the hope and expectation here that by mid-April this thing could be done?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we certainly would have hopes. Whether we have expectations or not will depend more on what we learn in meetings like the one tomorrow and the ongoing consultations that we hope will occur following. It's too early at this point to predict what timing might exist, but the President would be the first to say that an early agreement on a balanced budget that puts in place common understanding about how we will move to balance by the year 2002 would be in the interest of Congress, in the interest of the American people; would allow for some of the hard choices that are defined in our budget to be made now and put on track for the year 2002. So we would be encouraged if things can move that quickly.
Q Would it be too much to expect, then, tomorrow, to have the principals designate their negotiators and set some kind of a timetable?
MR. MCCURRY: Again, I would caution you against thinking this will be a session that focuses exclusively on the budget. In fact, I imagine they will discuss that subject that that will be one of only many subjects to be raised tomorrow, given our understanding.
Q Chairman Archer talked on Sunday about sending the President a letter to work together on tax relief, some sort of tax simplification. What is the President's reaction to that letter and what kind of process would the President like to see addressed --
MR. MCCURRY: We're very interested in tax relief or tax reform, if you define tax reform by easing Americans' encounter with the tax code annually and making the tax code simpler and more useful in the day-to-day lives of Americans. We think we've done a lot with respect to that subject already. We've eased and simplified the ways in which private sector employers can bring on line retirement income programs, like 401K programs. We simplified a lot of the procedures that tax filers go through when they make their annual presentation to the IRS. Those are all important things to do. They help simplify the environment for tax collection in the country.
But as far as relief, our number one idea right now are those measures that we've put forward in the budget to provide targeted tax relief to those who are sending kids to school, to those who are trying to raise children, the tax credit, the expanded IRAs -- those are the ideas the President has advanced. We'd welcome the opportunity to see if Chairman Archer or others have additional ideas.
Q Mike, on that, the Republicans have indicated that they may, in fact, use the President's budget as a baseline budget in the markup sessions. If they do that, that must be encouraging to the White House. And would the President possibly be more willing to be flexible on the idea of broader tax cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: You're right, we are encouraged by the fact they are looking at the President's submission as a starting point. We imagine they will have additional ideas, and it's important for Congress to specify those areas in which they would alter the President's budget proposal. We'll be looking for concrete ideas from them about how they would generate savings necessary to pay for additional tax relief if, in fact, additional tax relief is something that they are inclined to support. That's all by way of saying we can have a good, honest, straightforward discussion about balanced budget priorities as we look ahead to the year 2002 and as we look specifically at the next fiscal year and come to some agreement about how we craft a bipartisan budget.
Q Mike, on the education bully pulpit stuff, I mean, so far in the three appearances the President has done, he has either gone to places that already do what he wants done, or that agree with him. Is he going to go talk to groups that don't agree with him? What is the point of going to groups that already -- groups and places that already are doing what he wants done?
MR. MCCURRY: You start by building momentum for the ideas that he has advanced and demonstrate that in a lot of places in this country some of those ideas are already working, as they are in Georgia and as certainly the leadership in Maryland intend them to work in Maryland. But you're right -- you need to continue to make that case everywhere in the country and there are other places where we'll have to make it in the face of those who might be opposed to some of the President's ideas.
Not everyone universally believes that setting standards and moving towards the type of testing that the President has described is necessarily a good idea. There are people in some places that are not quite certain that the incentives that we're providing for higher education through the tuition tax credit concept is the right way to stimulate higher education opportunities. So, in due course as we present our arguments on the Hill and elsewhere, we will encounter those that have contrary points of view, and the President will be making this argument in a variety of different settings.
Q Can you give us some sense of what then next few settings will be? Is he going to keep going to state legislatures, for example?
MR. MCCURRY: We may, but we haven't announced any additional travel in pursuit of that particular agenda.
Q Mike, can you tell us, does the President still regard Jim McDougal as a friend, and what was his reaction to Mr. McDougal's remarks to The New Yorker and apparently Ken Starr?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Kendall has indicated that there's no additional reason to comment on that particular story. The President has given sworn testimony on that matter. That's been available to you for some time, going back to August of 1995, and there really is no need to amplify those remarks.
Q He stands by that?
Q How about on the question of --
MR. MCCURRY: That's right, Helen. He's made interrogatories available with the RTC and of course, his testimony in the earlier Whitewater trial is a matter of public record, and the President stands by that testimony.
Q How about the question, though, of whether he still regards McDougal as a friend?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to the President about that. I don't want to characterize his views.
Q There's speculation on the Internet -- I don't know if it's the Pierre Salinger chat room or not, but there's speculation that the White House has been hit with a series of target letters by Starr's office, indicating that people living or working at the White House might be targeted for --
MR. MCCURRY: That rumor surfaces from time to time, and often it does on the Internet, and we routinely say you should just check with Mr. Starr's office and determine the veracity of those type of rumors for yourself.
Q Do you have any comment on the exercise near Okinawa?
MR. MCCURRY: The Pentagon has dealt with that subject at some length today. This follows a survey that the United States government did off the cost of Okinawa. We've been in close contact with the government of Japan about this matter and we believe we can satisfactorily address any concerns that have been raised. They've really briefed on it at more detail over at the Pentagon and I'd kind of leave it to them to handle the specifics.
Q Mike, has the White House been hit with a new -- letter?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't routinely comment on whether we have or we haven't because the rumor arises so often.
Q Well, you're not going to --
Q Do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: I just will refer the question to Mr. Kendall.
Q Mike, there's now an Office of Special Counsel investigation going on on Harold Ickes. Does the President still believe he's the appropriate person to be organizing for the G-7 summit when he's under a cloud, or would it be better to drop him and get somebody else?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's the office that normally looks at matters that are raised of that nature. He's volunteering in his capacity right now, working on matters related to the G-7. He's not formalized a role to my understanding. But the President believes he has demonstrated a capacity to organize large events that require meticulous coordination with a lot of different entities, and that certainly will be required as the United States looks forward to hosting the G-7 meeting in Denver.
Q Mike, does that mean the President has confidence in him?
MR. MCCURRY: He has confidence in his abilities to do exactly that type of work, absolutely. He just did it in connection with the Inaugural and did a spectacular job.
Q Is the administration involved in any way in the American Airlines talks which begin here today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are closely following the mediating effort that is now underway or will be underway for the next five days. The super negotiations that the mediation service is conducting will be underway up until the Friday deadline, and we remain anxious and hopeful that the parties resolve the dispute. We would only be prepared to play any role if we had a request from both parties to do so.
Q Mike, you said that Harold Ickes was volunteering his services, but my understanding is he was to be hired ultimately as a special government employee. Is that not the case?
MR. MCCURRY: He would have further counsel discussions before they hire him as special government employee. That has not occurred yet, and it would be up to Mr. Ickes and the White House to arrange any employment terms in their own conversation. That hasn't happened yet and I don't know of any reason why it won't. But it has not happened yet.
Q Mike, I asked you this morning about the Journal's story about the aviation report. You said you'd look into it.
MR. MCCURRY: They are meeting -- I mean, there's a lot of speculation based on some early drafts of the final recommendations of what will be in the final report. I'm told that most of what's been reported is not too far off the mark. There's a little bit of discrepancy about some of the dollar costs that you've seen in some of the speculative stories. But they're meeting on Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to noon at the Commerce Department. That's the point at which the Vice President will really ask the members of the commission to finalize the recommendations. I really don't think I should comment on the recommendations until they are final.
Q Is the headline number, the $500 million over five years, wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not so sure that it's wrong. But I think the concern is that it makes it look like that is a new request. And much of that money, I am told, was included in our FY '97 budget request in the supplemental budget requests, and, in fact, has already not only been appropriated but has been spent to implement some of the things that the commission has reviewed. So we just would not want that characterized as new or additional spending.
Q Mike, the Boston Globe has a story today saying that Don -- quoting Don Fowler as saying that attendees at the coffees were routinely solicited for money afterwards. Did the White House know this was going on, one? And two, is there any concern over the priority of this going on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would -- I think the President would wonder why he was doing all those coffees if they hadn't had some follow-up. The purpose of those was to introduce people to the President's program, to talk to people who had contributed, talk to people who might contribute. And our assumption was that the Democratic National Committee in an appropriate way would follow up with those who had had a chance to hear the President talk about his program for the future. We assume that they did.
Q Mike, doesn't that make these essentially fundraisers held at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: The question is whether the President directly solicited funds during these occasions, and he did not.
Q Do you have any comment on the Post story about the interdiction activities in Mexico, or lack of, especially because they're coming up for recertification on antidrug efforts?
MR. MCCURRY: I know a lot of work has been done on that. I would have to look into that. I don't have anything offhand -- I know that there's been conversations through the binational work we do on drug interdiction that tighten up both procedures and to make sure we've got the right resources committed to the fight against drugs across the border. But I'll have to look into that further.
MR. JOHNSON: General McCaffrey has --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and David says that General McCaffrey has addressed that publicly on a number of occasions. So you might want to check with his office.
Q -- not since then?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't know how recently.
Q Has the President decided who he's going to appoint to the --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Then, when?
MR. MCCURRY: When he's confident he's got the right and most superbly qualified nominees for the commission.
Q You're not setting any particular target date at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen anything to indicate to me that that's going to be resolved in a matter of hours, although I know it's being worked on and I know that a lot of names have been kicked around and they are trying to wrap it up.
Q Is there a statutory timetable for these appointments, or is it discretionary?
MR. MCCURRY: I honestly do not know. I think there's been some concern that it's taken a long time to find members of the commission to serve, and there are others who make appointments as well, not just the President.
Q Is the President going to speak at Mrs. Harriman's funeral --
MR. MCCURRY: He will -- my understanding is that he will speak at her funeral on Thursday, as will the Vice President. Correct? Yes.
Q Is the President at all concerned that the IRS is auditing tax-exempt organizations with political motivation?
MR. MCCURRY: I've been told that the Treasury Department and the IRS declined to comment about audits that the IRS conducts. And I'll see if I can get anything more than that.
Q Considering the media reports, has the President inquired of anyone on his staff?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. I don't know whether he has or not.
Okay. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:34 P.M. EST