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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 11, 1997
                      REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

Cabinet Room

10:00 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: In the State of the Union address I asked the Congress to pass bipartisan campaign finance reform by July the 4th, and I pointed out that delay would mean the death of reform, as it has in the last several years. I am very pleased to welcome to the White House today this bipartisan group of House members who are now all cosponsors of the Shays-Meehan legislation. They are coming together in a bipartisan way to limit the influence of money in our campaigns for Congress and in financing the political parties, and to level the playing field.

And I feel very, very strongly that they have done a good thing for our country. I am supporting their efforts very strongly, and I want to do whatever I can to work with them to help this legislation pass.

As soon as I leave here I'm going up to the Hill to a meeting of the bipartisan leadership of Congress, to which the Speaker and Senator Lott invited me after the State of the Union. And this is one of the issues I intend to raise there. I'm very encouraged by what I've heard here today, and we're determined to go forward.

Mr. Vice President.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I want to reiterate the challenge laid down by the President in his State of the Union address to pass bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation by Independence Day, July 4, this year.

For those of you who have been covering this story over the years, you may recognize that something new is happening here today. There are members sitting around this table from both parties who in the past were not cosponsors of this particular legislation. There are members in both parties who have had their own designs for fixing this broken system, but they are all coming together in support of a common bipartisan bill.

These members are almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The momentum is building. The President has signed the very top members of his team at the White House and in the administration to make sure that we push as hard as we possibly can in partnership with Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate to move this legislation forward. So the attendance of these members here today is extremely significant as a sign of the building momentum.


CONGRESSMAN SHAYS: We want to thank you, Mr. President. And on behalf of both Republicans and Democrats we're grateful that you've given this such a high profile. We're grateful that you have stressed time and again that this has to be bipartisan. We're grateful that you are eager that no one party get a special advantage or that you not use this to promote one thing at the disadvantage of the bill; that you are conscious that this has to, in fact, be a common effort. This isn't Marty's bill, it's not my bill; this is really a bill of tremendous members.

We hope the next time we meet in the East Room and have more cosponsors. But you've been tremendously helpful, and we thank you.


CONGRESSMAN MEEHAN: Mr. President, we followed up on the State of the Union by drafting a letter to both Speaker Gingrich and Leader Gephardt that we've all signed, and asked the leadership of both parties to make sure that we get a vote -- accept your challenge and make sure we get a vote on this by July 4th.

The other point I'd make is that in talking to people within the Democratic Caucus, this is truly a bipartisan bill. The Democratic Caucus -- some Democratic members feel it may be beneficial, too beneficial to Republicans. The Republican Caucus or as some Republican members would say, this bill may be too beneficial to the Democrats. That means it's a fair bill and a true bipartisan bill. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all.

Q Isn't this blocking the barn after the horse has gone?

THE PRESIDENT: No. How can you say that? There will be a whole set of new elections up. There are elections in '98, there are elections in 2000, there are elections in 2002. I hope there will be elections 200 years from now.

Q Is this all a product of lessons learned from the last campaign?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Most of these people have wanted to do this for many years. Keep in mind, we had -- in each of the last four years we had a serious campaign finance reform effort that died because of the parliamentary procedures in the Senate which permit 40 plus one to block a vote, and because we didn't have more of this. I think this is the most important thing. The House is staking out a position, these members are, that they're going to try to reach not only across party lines, but across philosophical lines. I mean, just look around this table here and you'll see people who differ on a lot of substantive issues, but want to change the rules by which they work in the public interest. That's really, to me, the most encouraging thing.

If you look around this table you see not only party difference, you see people from every region in our country, you see people who are from various different positions on the substance of most of the major issues facing us. But they are united in wanting to change the rules. And I think that there can be an engine of bipartisan and grass-roots reform here that we have not seen before. People have wanted to do this for a long time, but I think they've got a chance to break through the last dam and get the job done. And I'm going to support them every way I can.

Q Mr. President, how disturbing is it to you that black jurors -- black and white jurors and black and white Americans in general viewed the same evidence in the O.J. Simpson trial, but came generally to drastically different conclusions?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, as to the jury verdict I have nothing to add to what I said after the last jury verdict. We have a system here in this country which I think we should all respect. The only people who heard all the evidence were the people who were sitting in the jury box, in both cases. And civil trials and criminal trials are very different in different ways, so I have nothing to add to that. I respect the jury verdict.

And in terms of the way Americans see the world differently, generally, based on their race, that troubles me, and I spoke about it at some length at the University of Texas last year when we had the Million Man March here in Washington and I was down there. I think the only answer to that is for us to spend more time listening to each other and try to put ourselves in each other's shoes and understand why we see the world in different ways, and keep trying to overcome that.

I would say that even though it's disturbing, we have succeeded so far in managing the world's most multiethnic, diverse democracy better than a lot of countries that are smaller than we are with fewer differences within them. And we just -- this is a work that's never done -- that our different attitudes, our different view points in some ways are the great strength of America, but if they're too -- if we're too estranged, if the divide is too great, then we can't hold the country together.

And we just have to keep working at it. And I intend to -- I've worked on it hard for four years, I'm -- we're talking about what else we might do. But in terms of the jury verdict, that's the system we have in America. It's over as far as I'm concerned. We need to get on with other things. But we always need to be working to try to bridge these divides between us.

Q Mr. President, what are you hoping to achieve in the budget talks today? What are you hoping to achieve in budget talks this morning?

THE PRESIDENT: The next step of what we talked about -- what I talked about at the State of the Union. I think we have got an enormous opportunity here to do great things together, because I think there is a consensus all across the country and among both parties that we have a lot of great challenges, some significant, indeed, unparalleled opportunities. And the whole system is kind of tending toward movement instead of paralysis again. And that's a good thing for America. And I'm going to do what I can to keep it going this morning.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 10:07 A.M. EST