THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:23 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start by saying the President will travel to New York City on Tuesday, this coming Tuesday, February 18. He'll attend a Business Enterprise Trust luncheon, and then he's got a fundraiser later that evening for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Q Is that open?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's get this clear about fundraisers. (Laughter.) There's no one to my knowledge, although maybe it would be a good idea to have public financing of campaigns and ask for the taxpayers to pay for campaigns -- there's not to my knowledge any pending legislation that would do that. Therefore, there will continue to be fundraisers. Under all versions of campaign finance reform there would be fundraisers.
Q So no unilateral disarmament? You haven't learned any lessons?
Q Will it be open?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the Senate Campaign Committee; it would be our preference that it will be, but we'll check into that.
The Business Enterprise Trust luncheon that he will attend, that's a nonprofit organization. It will be attended by approximately a couple hundred business and academic leaders. It's a trust fund that was established by Norman Lear, and it's dedicated to advancing private sector efforts to merge sound management practices with social vision. Sounds very high-brow to me.
The President will then journey to Boston, Massachusetts, where he will stay overnight, and we will have an event Wednesday morning, February 19. And we'll tell you more about that as we develop that event.
Q Is the fundraiser in Boston?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's in New York -- New York City.
Q So it's evening and he travels late, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Evening and then he goes on to Boston -- is that right? Correct.
Q So Boston is the state capital of Massachusetts, so would he be talking to another state legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have -- do you know what kind of event we're doing? We're doing some things about protecting children from violence and crime.
Q So it is the New York event late and we travel late?
MR. MCCURRY: That's my impression, yes.
Q Hasn't he learned any lesson? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Okay.
Q Do as I say, not as I do?
MR. MCCURRY: What else do we have on the docket today? Ms. Braver.
Q Mike, Senator Shelby put out a release a little while ago saying that he was postponing Tony Lake's nomination hearings. He raised a series of questions that he said still have to be answered. One of them, he said, is that the FBI background check had not been completed on Mr. Lake, and I was wondering if you had any information on why that was delayed.
MR. MCCURRY: I do not. In fact, I did not know that to be the case, so I'd have to check on that.
Q And he also said that he put a series of questions to Mr. Lake -- I think he said in December -- that have still not been answered by Mr. Lake. And I was wondering again if you had any sense of what the delay is in that.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have even a sense of what those questions are. The only thing I have seen on the wire so far is indication that he has some concerns about the Justice Department's resolution of two matters that we talked about here last Friday, and that's the only thing I saw on the wires that he expressed concern about. But I'll have to check -- if he's got a longer statement, we'll have to check into that.
Q And the third thing was one of the problems that he raises is that the White House records indicating meetings between a National Security Council staffer and a contributor, and the person in question is Pauline Kanshanalak. And I was wondering whether you could tell us whether or not Mr. Lake had any knowledge of that meeting between Sandy Kristoff and Pauline Kanshanalak.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go into the detail of that. That is a contact that we have established in the past and briefed news organizations about. But I would want to get a precise answer as to that question.
Q Do you have any reaction to the delay in the hearings?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our general reaction is the same --all of these matters are matters that we believe Mr. Lake has addressed -- has addressed in individual meetings and is in a very good position to clarify any concerns.
The President has a very ambitious and active foreign policy schedule in the coming weeks and months, one in which we will need a strong and effective Director of Central Intelligence who can help prepare the information and analysis that's necessary for good policymaking. Tony Lake is a superbly qualified nominee to bring that kind of wisdom to the President's foreign policymaking team. And for that reason, the President has urged publicly and privately that the Senate move to expeditious consideration. We believe we can do that.
We believe we can do that well in advance of March, but we will have to live with the schedule that is determined by the Senate, given their constitutional role. We just would point out that we have ample need to have strong leadership within the intelligence community as we move into the weeks ahead.
Q Did he bring that up at the meeting today?
MR. MCCURRY: He talked in general about the need to move forward on nominations and then thanked the senators privately for the work that they've done on some of the nominations that have been considered to date.
Q Can you talk more generally about the results of this meeting today and what you think the next steps will be as a result?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have some specific steps that the Vice President has spoken to -- so, I gather, have Majority Leader Lott and Speaker Gingrich. The context of this meeting today was to identify areas in which there is broad, bipartisan agreement that a common ground can be found. And the question is how do you go about finding that common ground. The participants today identified five specific areas that they believe we can work on immediately through follow-up sessions between administration officials and relevant members of Congress that will address five areas that I think you've all been told about now.
Now, there was a lot of discussion of other areas as well -- not to leave any out, but within the context of our continuing work on balancing the budget, which everyone agreed was a very high priority. They identified education, the District of Columbia, juvenile justice, moving people from welfare to work, and tax issues generally as five areas in which there would be specific follow-up between the administration and Congress.
A lot of other discussion -- a lot of other issues. But the immediate steps forward are to take those five areas and begin working on defining exactly how we can come together quickly. And I put the stress on quickly because several participants say we need momentum to establish a track record and some confidence that we can work in a bipartisan fashion -- but quickly move to agreement in those areas and define where there are some differences we know we have to bridge to find where there are some areas of commonality already in the proposals that have been advanced by the administration and by various Republican members of Congress.
Q Will the President be participating in these?
MR. MCCURRY: They delegated in the case -- for example, in the case of education, Secretary Riley will be leading the follow-up. The President at the meeting asked Secretary Rubin to look at some of the tax-related issues. There will be other administration officials working in some of these specific areas with members of Congress. But it was a productive meeting. I wouldn't rule out future meetings of that format.
Q Who is the point person on D.C., Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, a number of people are actually involved in that. Director Raines was at the meeting and he has been the administration point person on that issue. There may be others as well. The observation that was made, I believe, by the Speaker, to credit the Speaker, is that a lot of the President's proposals, whether they relate to literacy or welfare reform or the work we're doing to try to restore confidence in inner-city communities that they can be safe and well-protected would have very real practical applications right here in this nation's Capital City.
And so that's -- there was broad agreement in this meeting that that would be an area in which it would be smart to see if we couldn't come together with some bipartisan ideas on how we could advance our common agenda right here in our own neighborhood.
Q Mike, would you say that the President was satisfied with the level of cooperation and bipartisan that he encountered in the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: He was more than satisfied. It was, the President said, a uniformly positive meeting. He was delighted with the tone and with the free exchange and with the candor. And there were some candid exchanges that reflected a reality of doing business when you've got a Congress and a White House of different political parties, but candid enough to say that we all understand that we're here to do the nation's business and to move forward.
And the President was delighted with the outcome. The Vice President has now spoken to that on the Hill. Some of your colleagues had an opportunity to question him up on the Hill, so I won't attempt to add to what Senator Daschle, Congressman Gephardt and the Vice President said -- they all described the meetings, I think, in glowing terms.
Q Why did the Vice President give the readout rather than the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Because he's the President of the Senate. (Laughter.)
Q Yeah -- keep going.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just -- the President had had an opportunity to put some focus in his remarks on the need for bipartisanship in the pool setting, and then, as you know, we had an event earlier today on campaign finance, so we didn't want to have an overdose of the President today.
Q Does this mean that both sides have agreed to focus on the areas where it looks like you could make a deal and not put your attentions on areas like campaign finance where it looks unlikely that you'll make a deal?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, campaign finance, there was discussion of that, but it's clear that there is a lot of work that lies ahead, and we were, as you know, doing some of that work right here at the White House earlier today. They talked about children's health as a high priority area, the Superfund, the issue of nuclear waste disposal, the Chemical Weapons Convention. There were a number of areas in which were all put on the table by various participants, but these were the five areas where they agreed they should try to work especially hard in coming weeks to see if they could not begin fashioning some type of bipartisan common ground agenda.
Q I understand that Vice President Gore wanted Superfund not to be included. Do you know why that is?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they had -- there were different points of discussion about that. The administration has done a lot of work especially last year to build a consensus approach on Superfund, and we have some concerns about the direction of some of the debate on the Hill. That was an area where, I think from our point of view, there needs to be more work before we can agree that there seems to be a solid ground to assess this as a likely winner when it comes to fashioning a bipartisan agenda.
But there was by no means anyone ruled out that happening. I think the Vice President just indicated a short while ago that we would want to see if we couldn't add some things to this list as we go along. But these are five to start with, and as the President said at one point in the meeting, that's a lot to chew on just to begin with. And so they'll concentrate their efforts on those five, recognizing that a lot of work will continue to occur in the congressional committee process on all these other issues. They are certainly going to be under consideration too.
Q I get a sense that the President rather than push campaign finance reform through the leadership in a sort of top-down fashion is hitching his wagon instead to individual members efforts and sort of working in a bottom-up fashion.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he did not say to the leaders that this is one in which we can attempt to write the legislation. The reason, there's already vehicles in both the House and the Senate that represent the best prospects in decades for bipartisan campaign finance reform. And as the President said to you earlier in the day, the House -- the introduction of this measure in the House with the significant number of Republicans as co-sponsors -- the number 12 being the operative number -- really is an indication that there could be momentum behind that approach.
So that is a case where I think everyone knows that there are different concerns. The President would not attempt to put the leadership of either chamber in the position of having to respond on behalf of their own members that might have contrary views. And we recognize that, but we do believe, as the President said earlier, you can build public momentum for campaign finance reform by continuing to focus on the measures that are now beginning to move in the Congress.
Q Is that a change in strategy for him or an adjustment of strategy to get this through?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, it's -- he will continue to speak to this forcefully himself, but identify the available vehicles in Congress and continue to work with those sponsors of this legislation and outside groups that are advocating reform to try to keep public momentum behind the reform measures that are available and that we believe could ultimately be passed.
Q Mike, who is sponsoring the fundraiser in New York and what's its purpose?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and it's to reelect Democratic members of the Senate or to elect new Democratic members of the Senate.
Q Mike, is the President still receiving ambassadors this afternoon? And if so, do you have a list?
MR. MCCURRY: He is and the list is: Ambassadors from the Kirgiz Republic, the People's Republic of Bangladesh, the Republic of Cyprus, the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Colombia, Australia, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and the Kingdom on Tonga.
Q Is that one person for the last few or was that lots of different ones?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the total list.
Q Mike, did they discuss entitlement reform at all in their meeting, and did they make any progress on that stuff?
MR. MCCURRY: They discussed it generally, and the President explicated something that he said in departing from his text at the State of the Union, that they need to work on balancing the budget and creating an environment in which then it is possible to address some of the longer-term issues that arise in the next century related to federal spending. And they did explore some ideas on how that might happen. They didn't come to -- they didn't attempt to come to any conclusion on that. But the President provided a little more background on his thinking on that issue.
Q Mike, at the end of the campaign, the beginning of the year, the President identified campaign finance reform as one of the priority issues. Today he held an event endorsing his second reform proposal in recent weeks, and he goes up to the Hill and it doesn't even turn up on the radar screen.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not -- that is not accurate at all.
Q Why should the American people think that anything is going to be done?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first of all, let's get the facts straight. The President raised that as a very high priority of his, personally, talked about why he considered it important; why, among other things, as he said in a fairly eloquent moment in the meeting, it would restore some confidence on the part of the American people in the process and encourage more Americans to vote. But I've told you about the areas in which both sides agreed that they were going to focus their attention immediately to achieve bipartisan consensus. And I've just explained to you moments ago why that is a particular area that wasn't initially added to that list. But we'll continue to work on the issue very hard.
Q Yes, but then, why should Americans feel anything's going to be done about it this year?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has worked -- among other things, because the President is working very hard on it, as you know from his session earlier today.
Q At the meeting, was there any discussion of the hearings into the campaign finance controversy and whether that threatened to undo the efforts to reach bipartisan agreement on other issues?'
MR. MCCURRY: There was no discussion of that issue.
Q Was there any discussion of CPI and possibly revising it and whether that needs to be part of this or putting it off or --
MR. MCCURRY: No. This was not a budget negotiation, they didn't deal in detail with budget issues. This was a meeting that talked more about the processes by which both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and working with the White House can come to agreement on things that we can do to respond to issues like that.
Q On Okinawa, any follow-up? Has the President himself become involved in the last 24 hours?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. I think he's been briefed on some of the work our government has done with the government of Japan to understand exactly what happened, to deal with cleanup and an environmental assessment, and to respond to any concerns that the government of Japan might have.
Q Mike, you mentioned moments of candor and reality expressed in this meeting. Which of the Republican leaders was the most candid and what kind of partisan --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to rate individual performances. I'd say that the entire conversation occurred in that spirit. I mean, people were very forthcoming and they dealt very honestly with the President, and the President dealt very honestly with the members present. It was, in short, exactly the kind of meeting I think the American people would want to see the leadership of this country have on more than one occasion.
Q In what respect do you mean that they were so forthcoming and candid?
MR. MCCURRY: They talked about the realities of getting some of these things done -- what it would take, how they would try to bridge some of the differences that exist. I think there was certainly some evidence of a cooperative environment and the fact that they both agreed to consider agenda items brought to the table by the other side.
Q Mike, speaking of the President's foreign policy team, I think the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is voting on Bill Richardson today, whether he may have even approved, and he might be approved today by the whole Senate. Will the President do the swearing-in? I mean, will it be done here or at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that yet. But obviously, the President would warmly welcome the confirmation of Bill Richardson. He will be a very able envoy on behalf of the United States to the United Nations. We're at a time in which there is an extraordinary opportunity to redirect the energy of that institution to all of the challenges we face in the new post-Cold War era. He's someone who I think can bring a very eloquent voice, a different kind of voice to the representation of the U.S. interests at the United Nations. And it comes at a particularly important time as we address the issues that administrative management reform at the United Nations and as we simultaneously meet our obligations to carry our share of the financial burden of running the United Nations.
Q Back on campaign finance reform just for a second. The President's meeting this morning was for people who are already in agreement with him. What are his plans for contacting or anything else members who are not?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the purpose of the meeting today is to build public support for campaign finance reform so that those who might be inclined to be on the other side of the issue will feel some heat for being there. What the President believes he can do is, by using his leadership, by working with those who are advocates of reform to build public momentum for campaign finance reform and make it difficult to be in opposition.
So that's -- in part, we believe that there can be -- it can be made abundantly clear that it's in the public's interests to support these measures, and that people who line up against campaign finance reform do so at some peril.
Q I guess I've never understood the mechanics of what essentially seems like trying to build momentum by preaching to the choir, when it seems that the President needs to work on --
MR. MCCURRY: We were not preaching to the choir today, we were doing an event that will help put a public spotlight on the importance of this issue and the fact that a bipartisan group of members of Congress have come together in support of the objective of campaign finance reform; that they, in turn, applauded the President's call for getting this work done by July 4, and that in that discussion of the issue, create some public momentum to move the issue forward. I think it's pretty straightforward.
Q Didn't the President, in fact, give the first group they met with today some suggestions on how he thinks they should portray people who are opposed?
MR. MCCURRY: No. No, I don't think there was a need to do that. He was talking about how they can together work as a group, Republican and Democrat, to advance the cause of campaign finance reform. It was more a discussion of how they advance the common purpose of seeing that this legislation is passed.
Q One of the participants said that he said something along the lines of that some point opponents could be portrayed as blocking a train that was moving in their direction.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, I don't recollect that particular phrase, but the idea was let's move, create some type of groundswell support for this measure so that it becomes difficult to be in opposition to it -- I guess that's the way I'd describe that.
Q What's the President's next personal involvement in this budget agreement process? What's the next thing he is going to do?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll continue to work individually with members to press his case. There was not a specific follow-up suggested today, but it was clear that there will be a lot of activity on behalf of the White House, working with members of Congress, to advance some of these common concerns that have been identified. I think that will require the President's involvement and his leadership on many occasions in coming weeks.
Q Is there a model for this process? Is there another previous time when a President and the leadership of Congress have met just a week after the State of the Union and gotten --
MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware of any precedent for this. Interestingly, the historian of the U.S. Capitol came to the beginning of the meeting and described the room itself -- it's a room that was added as the Capitol was expanded in 1859 so that the President would have a place to meet with members of the Congress on the occasions that the President would go to Capitol Hill. Abraham Lincoln was the first to use that room; it has been used by subsequent Presidents. I believe, if I didn't -- I may have misheard his presentation, but I think Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in that very room. It has historically been the room in which the President sits at the end of a congressional session to sign legislation that has been passed.
I think it was rather unique that in this case it was used by the President to launch an effort, working with Congress, to -- that hopefully will result in a lot of bills to sign down the road -- which we will do so with great fanfare.
Q Did the historian say who was the last President to routinely sit there at the end of a session and sign all the --
MR. MCCURRY: He did not say. I got the impression it may have been in the early 20th century.
Q Mike, the President set July 4th as --
MR. MCCURRY: Ted Daniel, by the way, is the name of the -- to credit the historian.
Q The President said July 4th is his deadline for the campaign finance reform. Does he anticipate then that the other five issues could be resolved faster than that? Is that -- what kind of time frame is there?
MR. MCCURRY: There was not a specific time frame discussed. But several participants talked about the importance of creating some momentum early in this calendar year. And this effort was to identify areas in which it might be possible to achieve that kind of early action. But there was not a specific setting of a deadline for any of these particular issues.
Q Where does it face a bigger challenge -- campaign finance reform -- in the House or the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not expert enough to give you an assessment. I think for different reasons in both bodies, there might be concerns. But historically, these efforts have fallen by the wayside when different members advance different ideas about campaign finance reform. And what the President stressed today and I think what a lot of the leaders of the reform movement agree is that coming together on available vehicles -- McCain-Feingold in the Senate, the Shays-Meehan bill on the House -- and then using those as a way to drive the debate is a way ultimately you might get some type of consensus legislation that could be passed by both parties.
Q One of the issues was discussed was D.C. Are there any planned public appearances in the immediate future to highlight this -- the President wants to get this off?
MR. MCCURRY: The President had shortly before the holidays been thinking about doing some event of that nature and we had to postpone it. I believe they are looking to get it on the calendar again in the coming weeks.
Q What might that be?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll let you know when we get a schedule.
Q Mike, were the Republicans able to clarify with the President this morning at the meeting what they intend to do for the budget process? In other words, did they say that they don't intend to do a resolution of their own or did they make it clear to him how these five areas will fit into the process?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, several members present made the point of saying that the regular order has to continue, that this effort to identify these priority subjects can be done as a parallel effort to the regular order of the budget process. And the President quickly agreed to that. In fact, the President said that privately one of his reasons for wanting to go to Capitol Hill, making a kind of unusual journey up there, was to indicate to members of the Congress who are not in this meeting that they have prerogatives that he understands, they have constitutional responsibilities that he understands, and that that process needs to continue. And several participants in the meeting made a point of referencing that.
But I think this is a way in which you can look at the ideas that have been advanced by both sides, come to some clarity about how you could define common ground and then inject a little bit of momentum into the regular legislative process that exists on Capitol Hill.
Q So what does that mean? Are the Republicans gong to do their own budget, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Republicans can tell you what their plans are on that.
Q What's your impression?
MR. MCCURRY: Our impression is that a lot of what they've said is their disposition -- (laughter) -- that they are seriously considering the President's budget. They're going to deal with it. They're going to have some different ideas and some amendments, but they're going to use that as a working document.
Q Do you think the action on these five areas will determine what they do?
MR. MCCURRY: No way of predicting. We certainly hope so. That's the whole point of identifying these areas for further work.
Q On another matter, do you have any comment on the reported threats to American Airlines pilots?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not even aware of those, sorry.
Q -- threats to them from sort of prankster things to notification -- sort of harassing them in the middle of these talks.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I mean, we strongly support the efforts of the National Mediation Board and believe that they should be conducted in the way fair and honest labor negotiations are routinely conducted. They ought to be free from threats of intimidation or violence.
Q One of the things that's happened is the FAA has stepped up its inspections in wake of this, as was reported today. I mean, are there any other efforts that you know of?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to refer you to the FAA then. I'm just not aware of it.
Q Did Senator Shelby speak with the President today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my -- not in my presence, while I was there, but I left --
Q Could you check on that?
MR. MCCURRY: -- I left the President and went elsewhere.
Q What's up for tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow we are going to be talking about airlines safety generally. The Gore Commission, as you know, meets in the morning from 9:00 a.m. until noon, and we might likely have more on that later.
Anything else tomorrow?
Q Any reaction to the Serbian Parliament voting to recognize the opposition election?
MR. MCCURRY: We are encouraged that that necessary step towards recognizing that expression free will by the people of Serbia has occurred. It's very important that that be fully implemented, that the duly-elected members of the municipal councils take their seats, begin their work, and fulfill the wishes of those who have democratically voted in Serbia. We think it was an important step taken, but we are now looking to see what type of implementation occurs based on this vote by the Parliament.
Is that close enough on the guidance?
MR. JOHNSON: Bingo.
Q Mike, there was a report out that the White House has backed away from some of its nominations to the gambling committee that it was about to propose -- the gambling commission --because those people turned out to either be DNC donors or had attended some of the coffees. How does that factor into the White House's consideration?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, to correct the misinformation there, we had not advanced any nominees for the commission, and the President, to my knowledge, had not made any final decisions on names to send forward. He's interested in getting good highly qualified people who will fulfill the mandates of the commission.
Q Is their status as a donor to the DNC or attending a coffee a consideration in their nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: There are many factors in the consideration. We're looking for people who will be well-qualified, who have openness to the issues that the commission will address, and who are in a position to capably fulfill the obligations they would have as commission members.
Q Is that a presidential advisory commission, or a national commission created by Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: Congressionally -- Congress established this commission, created this commission with the support of the President. The President supported creation of the commission itself to explore issues related to the impact gambling is having on American society and issues related to legalized gambling, generally, in the United States.
Q Are all or just some of the members appointed by the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Only three are appointed by the President; others are appointed by other leaders of Congress and by congressional leadership -- correct? All four congressional leaders appointed individual members, and they have all been -- they've named their members. We have not yet named ours.
Q Are you having trouble coming up with names?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not having any trouble. We've got a number of very highly-qualified members and the President is looking to bring a final decision forward shortly.
Q You're saying that the White House had not advanced any names even to congressional leadership?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not formally submitted any names to Congress, and the President had not made any final decisions on which three people he would designate.
Q When you say "formally submitted" --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying sending names up. We had not formally sent names up. Now, there are always discussions back and forth on prospective members as we consult with Congress and consult with others, but the President had not made any final decision on the three people that he intended to nominate. We had not reached that stage.
Q Mike, while you're on that, did Clinton at all talk with Glendening about gambling and Glendening's effort to shut down the charity casinos?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I hadn't heard anything of that issue arising yesterday, but I would have to check. Not to my knowledge did that come up.
Q Would a potential nominee be disqualified because he or she was a contributor to the Democratic Party? Would that have any factor in the President's thinking?
MR. MCCURRY: It should not have a factor, but I can't confirm to you that anyone in that category has been under consideration.
Q On the meeting today, Speaker Gingrich mentioned working from a base agreement on the budget from which either Republicans or Democrats could add amendments, but he didn't identify this agreement as the President's budget. Were you given assurances that the President's budget would be the starting point?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we were given assurances, I would describe it more that they agreed that the regular order would commence and that Congress would begin writing its budget resolutions mindful of the deadlines. I think there's some desire to try to meet the mandated deadlines of the Budget Act. But, again, the flavor of this conversation was more that there is a working document available to the President's budget submission, and that has a lot of useful ideas in it, and there clearly are other ideas that have been advanced by not only the Republican leaders present, but by other important committee chairs and others, and that those will all go into the mix of writing the budget.
Q Can I try again to get some information on tomorrow? The Vice President's Commission has already come out with some recommendations --
MR. MCCURRY: I've told you everything I know about it, unfortunately.
Q -- Miami yesterday under great provocation in Florida. American Airlines handles 50 percent of all of the flights of Miami, 20 percent of all of the flights in the United States. It's going to affect tremendously -- I think they handle over 60 percent of the travel in Latin America. It would be a major economic disruption if the National Mediation Board can't get these parties together. Will the President consider --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let me -- that's a precise question that falls under the purview of the Railway Labor Act. The National Mediation Board is now fully engaged in super negotiations with the parties. If the parties fail to reach an agreement -- and obviously the administration hopes they do reach an amicable agreement with both sides -- there are steps then that trigger or could conceivably trigger under the Railway Labor Act that would involved presidential determinations. You're aware of those. But we haven't reached that point yet. And at the moment, we are encouraging both sides to approach the bargaining table in a spirit of understanding about the economic consequences that would arise, but mindful of the right that both parties have to protect their interests as they negotiate.
Q There's a report from an organization called the Parents Television Council of the Media Research Center which is headed by Brett Bozell which gives an F to the TV rating system, saying that they watched 150 hours of the first two weeks of the rating system and obscenities appeared in 52 percent of the PG rated shows. Is the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: What rating did they give the daily briefing here? (Laughter.)
Q Don't know.
MR. MCCURRY: When the rating system was announced, the President said, look, we'll be open to addressing any shortcomings that exist. But this was -- it's been only five weeks now that this rating system has been in place. A lot of newspapers, among others, have not even yet printed materials to help their own readers understand how to evaluate the ratings that are available.
The Federal Communications Commission, at some appropriate point, is going to solicit comments on the rating system themselves. We'll see how they are working, but I would suggest that five weeks is not a period in which you can fairly evaluate the performance of the rating system that's been designed.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
END 2:58 P.M. EST