THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:05 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have much to add to any other items. You all know that you'll see the President shortly, so we can make this mercifully brief, I hope.
Q Is the President taking preliminary steps at all for a possible American Airline strike, such as thinking of who he might appoint to an emergency board, and making background checks, having them made on --
MR. MCCURRY: The President is closely monitoring the situation, the progress the parties are making, or at least the negotiations themselves and remains convinced that the parties should and must use the available mediation board process to address their grievances and settle their disputes. We are putting all energy and focus on the work the mediation board is doing. And we remain in close contact with the chair of the mediation board, and we follow closely the discussions that are underway by the parties through that venue.
Q But if there is no agreement by midnight --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate at all about what happens if there's no agreement. We want there to be an agreement. We want there to be an agreement by midnight tomorrow night.
Q Has either side yet contacted the White House affirmatively asking for intervention?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had contacts with both parties and with the chair of the mediation board from time to time. But the mediation board remains engaged with the parties, as they should be.
Q But are there contingency plans being made in case --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate about any contingency plans.
Q Has the Department of Transportation sent over its impact statement to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: You can imagine that they would be doing that type of work. But that's not a public document. And we hope that that analysis of economic damage won't need to be a useful document.
Q Has he received the document?
MR. MCCURRY: The President hasn't looked at it, but it's over here, I think -- is that correct?
Q Do you know where the negotiations are?
MR. MCCURRY: He's gets an update regularly from -- he gets an update from time to time from Mr. Lindsey on what Mr. Lindsey hears from the mediation board.
Q But, Mike, you're certainly not saying there are no contingency plans, because no one had talked about them?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that I'm not speculating about what happens if they don't settle this dispute before midnight tomorrow night. We want them to settle the dispute, we want them to use the mediation board.
Q Did the impact statement arrive today?
MR. MCCURRY: They're doing kind of an ongoing study and assessment of what the impact would be of a continuation of any dispute. But we hope it won't be a relevant exercise.
Q Mike, Senator Gramm seemed to indicate yesterday that it would be too late if the President were to wait until the strike deadline actually arrived, that he needs to take action beforehand so that people who are planning trips over the holiday weekend know they'll have a way back and so forth. Is that a consideration?
MR. MCCURRY: We certainly share the sentiment that parties ought to work hard to settle their disagreements prior to any disruption in scheduled airline service.
Q Mike, has the President been considering what would be the value of letting the strike go forward? I mean, he can do this at any time.
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been following very closely the work of the mediation board and wants the parties to settle. I think I've made that abundantly clear by now.
Q What does the President think about the resolution of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson is preparing to introduce on the floor?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not taken a position on that.
Q Do you want us to construe that the President will not take any action before the strike deadline actually arrives if there's no agreement by then?
MR. MCCURRY: I want you to construe that the President believes that the mediation board process ought to result in a settlement of this disagreement and he strongly encourages the parties to resolve their differences, that there's no disruption in scheduled service. Okay?
Q Another subject. Senator Ford yesterday proposed a sort of compromise on capital gains, a kind of sliding scale of reductions based on how long the property is held. Does the White House favor that idea?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House favors the agreement reached with the bipartisan leadership of Congress that we work to identify areas, and tax issues is one of them, where there will be further work with the congressional leadership. Those would be excellent ideas to put into that process, and that's where they ought to be considered.
Q Mike, Jamie Gorelick today did not deny The Washington Post story -- on the possible Chinese fundraising connection. Can you go any further than what you said this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I can't, and the --
Q Do you deny the story?
MR. MCCURRY: -- comments on Justice Department inquiries or investigations ought to come from the Justice Department. And she's been available to address that matter.
Q How concerned is the President, though, that there is a story out there that there possibly could have been some improper Chinese government activity to design influence of U.S. policy?
MR. MCCURRY: The story, while puzzling to the President, was of concern to him and he fully expects that any matters like that would be properly investigated.
Q Well, has he asked the DNC at all?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that matters like that would be properly investigated.
Q He has no interest in making a phone call?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has a policy on proper contact with law enforcement bodies like the Justice Department.
Q What did he find puzzling, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: The story.
Q It isn't in the hands of the Justice Department yet, is it?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q You mean he can't call the DNC people at all? It's not under investigation.
MR. MCCURRY: That would not be a wise course of action, and he did not pursue such a course.
Q Is it being investigated by the Justice Department?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the exact question that Jamie Gorelick addressed today.
Q Oh, but she didn't address that.
MR. MCCURRY: I can't tell you what the Justice Department does and does not investigate, and she, the number two official at the Department, has been available to you for questions today. I can't do any better than she can.
Q Because the issue is under investigation by the Justice Department does the President feel that he and the White House can do nothing to pursue it? For instance --
MR. MCCURRY: To pursue what?
Q The sort of tantalizing suggestions in the story about Chinese actions. Can the NSC do anything to pursue it or investigate it or look into it?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe I made it clear that the President, while puzzled by the matter, believes that if the news in the story is true, that it ought to be properly investigated.
Q Mike, can you explain why it is that the President is puzzled or what in particular it is that causes him puzzlement about the story?
MR. MCCURRY: The story.
Q Yes, but what about it?
MR. MCCURRY: The story -- what's reported, the news in the story.
Q But what is it about? What about it is puzzling?
MR. MCCURRY: It just seems puzzling. The news in the story seems puzzling. (Laughter.)
Q I mean, is it all news to him? He knew nothing about this?
MR. MCCURRY: As I already said earlier in response to your question that, in checking with people, people here were not familiar with the news in this story before seeing it in the Post.
Q Including the President?
Q Mike, are you saying puzzling as in didn't make sense to him?
MR. MCCURRY: From the top down. Say it again?
Q Are you saying puzzling as in didn't make sense or confusing to him?
MR. MCCURRY: I said earlier that I was having a hard time making heads or tails out of the story. I stand by that.
Q Mike, given this story, does the President think that John Huang should break his silence on this?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he has been silent on this matter. I don't know the degree to which he has addressed this matter.
Q Does the President think that Huang, Hubbell and all the rest of them should cooperate with the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a matter that's not related to the story we're talking about.
Q Mike, when you say --
Q Yes, but it's still a question.
Q It is a question.
Q Well, it's a question.
MR. MCCURRY: The President has always said that people should cooperate with legitimate authorities looking into these matters.
Q When you say that White House officials from the top down were unaware of the news in this story, is that a correct characterization?
MR. MCCURRY: I said that with the people I've checked with so far -- and I started at the top -- people were not aware of the news reported in this story.
Q The news being the intercepts --
MR. MCCURRY: Things reported -- things reported in the story.
Q Does that include Tony Lake?
MR. MCCURRY: It includes Mr. Lake.
Q Vice President Gore is scheduled to leave soon on a trip to China that's meant to be important. Could the allegations in the story have any impact on that trip or U.S. relations generally with China?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a very important bilateral relationship with them, and we don't know if any of the items in this story are true. And they've been specifically denied by a representative of the Chinese government.
Q Mike, there's a serious escalation in the violence in Northern Ireland last night with the killing of a British soldier. Does the President have a reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: He does. We were getting through a statement earlier on behalf of the President indicating that his -- he is grieved and outraged by the callous killing of a British soldier in Northern Ireland yesterday. The President and the First Lady extended their deepest sympathies to the soldier's family and to the British government and the people of Great Britain on the loss of this young man. The President also wished authorities success in bringing those responsible for this murder to justice swiftly.
The President, in his statement, said that all those who care about the future of Northern Ireland must join in condemning this cowardly crime. The President is convinced that the people of Northern Ireland -- the people who desire peace in Northern Ireland -- remain committed to a process that can help the parties bridge their differences.
And the President continues to believe that the Belfast talks that have been chaired by Senator Mitchell provide the opportunity to do that. The President has full support for those talks. He encourages all of those who share a commitment to democratic values and to peace in Northern Ireland to use that process to bridge differences so that the violence can be brought to an end.
Q Mike, is the presidential patience with Sinn Fein running out? Is the time over for them?
MR. MCCURRY: The President continues to call upon those who can have influence with the IRA to restore the cease-fire. Clearly, the escalation of violence, the murder of a British soldier for the first time in years is a serious escalation and one that does not reflect well on those who do claim to have an allegiance to the concept of peace for the people of Northern Ireland.
Q The Congressional Budget Office says that the President's budget will not reach balance in 2002, that it will be off by $50 billion at least, probably a lot more.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we respectfully disagree. We would note that over the last four years the projections of our own Office of Management and Budget had been more on the money than alternative economic assumptions and forecasts. But nonetheless, the President, to assure that his budget plan balances under any circumstances, has structured a way in which we can assure that under even those economic assumptions, his budget proposal balances.
Q What do you mean? Are you going to find $50 billion more in cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a way, a mechanism -- which we don't believe it's necessary, we don't believe it will ever be employed -- but we do have a mechanism if there would develop that type of shortfall in the out-years, that you could adjust the overall spending for domestic programs and also adjust the effect of the tax cuts -- tax relief measures for the middle class that the President includes in his proposal so that you achieve balance under any scenario. Now, we happen to believe that our scenario is the right one and that we'll be in surplus in the year 2002.
Q Didn't the last budget that you submitted use CBO figures, come into balance according to the CBO?
MR. MCCURRY: We submitted a plan that balanced under those assumptions.
Q Why not do that this time?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe -- we didn't have access to CBO's assumptions in structuring our budget. They will score our budget at some point. They've done a preliminary scoring now. We disagree with their analysis of the economy. But as Dr. O'Neill said today, the difference between the two sets of assumptions is very small and less than it was four years ago and not one that presents any insurmountable problems in bridging differences.
We're talking about a $50 billion difference out of a budget that is nearly, in the year 2002, $2 trillion. That's only a fraction of the difference between the two sets of assumptions and not any barrier to achieving an agreement about a balanced budget.
Q What's changed from last year? Last year you were willing to do it with their numbers.
MR. MCCURRY: We're willing to -- we did the same thing last year. We had different alternative scenarios and we had the same way of structuring our balance under our proposal that we made. I mean, there is no difference in that. The interesting thing is that the degree of difference between the two assumptions is smaller this time around.
Q Mike, in the meetings today with the Israeli Prime Minister, is the President in this fairly routine visit mostly listening to Netanyahu or is he also offering suggestions for moving things?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we do both. We are listening and we -- one of the things that is important about the U.S. role in this process is that we can sometimes hear what the parties say and reflect on that and help them understand how certain ideas and certain concepts will be reacted to by other parties. That is one of the valuable impacts that the United States can have on this process in our role as a facilitator and a mediator. And there will be some of that today. We will react to ideas. We will share thoughts, exchange views on the future of the process. And most of all, we'll seek to build momentum after the Palestinians and the Israelis and the -- given the, I think, courageous leadership of both the Prime Minister and the Chairman, we're able to put some new life into that process most recently.
Q The Prime Minister, in his brief comments this morning, said that Israel has undertaken bold action and he would now like to see bold action from the other side. Do you agree that there is a boldness inequality?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there's a need for momentum and the need to sustain the bold actions that both parties have taken. And we believe that can be done. We believe we can take the success that we've seen, build on it and nurture and deepen the process that brings so much promise to the people of Israel and to Israel's neighbors.
Q What is the differences --
Q What does the F-16 sale to Saudi Arabia stand?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been no real request or presentation from the Saudi government indicating a desire to make such purchases.
Q If they do, what would be the --
MR. MCCURRY: It's speculative. I'm not going to comment.
Q Mike, back on the budget. Newt Gingrich said last week that if the CBO scored Clinton's budget as unbalanced, he'd ask the President to submit a second budget that met CBO targets. Is the answer that you're not going to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe CBO has actually scored our budget formally. And I think that these are preliminary estimates that Dr. O'Neill had today. But, look, the environment in which the budget issue is clearly going to be dealt with now is one of much more amicable than challenges and counter-challenges and that sort of thing. We're not in to that kind of back-and-forth as we were a year ago or two years ago. We're in a different mode of operation now with both parties working to finish the job of balancing the budget, looking for areas of agreement, looking at a process in which we're identifying in areas like taxes and welfare and other -- Medicare, other issues, areas of common agreement -- it's just not the kind of thing we're there's that kind of challenge going back and forth.
Q Well wait, wait. But Newt did say that he would ask for a second budget if it was reviewed by CBO. And I'm just asking you regardless of -- will he submit it?
MR. MCCURRY: We said that -- you've seen those documents. They're like yay-high. They're -- a lot of hard work goes into them. It's a very good, credible budget. It's up there. If they are not satisfied with it, they ought to give us some specific ideas on how to amend or change the budget that has been submitted by the President. But we believe we can do that type of work in an amicable environment in which we don't need to hit the ball back and forth across the net.
Q Mike, broadcasters today said that they are already spending a $1 billion on drug advertising and drug promotion -- not promotion -- drug programming. (Laughter.) First of all, do you think the broadcasters should give more money or should give more time to anti-drug advertising? And second of all, can you explain why the President wants to specifically go on TV with programs as opposed to do something else with it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in part, the recommendation in our budget for a $175 million amount that would be designed for promotion of a televised message to young people that drugs can kill you reflects the experience of successful public service announcement campaign and advertising campaigns in the past and the judgment of the President's drug control policy experts -- General McCaffrey in particular. There is ample reason to believe that we need to reach young people with stark resonant messages that warn about the dangers of drugs and that there is evidence to believe that those have been successful in deterring drug use in the past.
Of course, we would want anyone who can be a part of the fight against drugs to make resources available, including air time. A number of networks have done that and we've been very complimentary of those efforts. A number of networks have sponsored their own public education campaigns or worked to try to be a part of the fight against drugs, and we commend those news organizations for -- or media groups for doing that type of thing. But it is important to have resources available. We think it does make a difference. That's why it was included in the President's budget.
Q Are you asking for them to give more in addition to what you're willing to pay for?
MR. MCCURRY: That would be desirable. I don't know that we've made -- I'm not aware that we've made any formal requests for that, but clearly, we know the more frequently you can reach young people with a message, the more likely it is to have a desired impact. And anything they can do would be appreciated.
Q What, if any, differences are there between the United States and Israel on the Syrian track, and what does the United States think of the proposal to unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon?
MR. MCCURRY: Two people are meeting right now who will be much more qualified to answer that question for you in a short while.
Q Mike, what does the Vice President hope to accomplish by his trip to Africa? And will he be making preparations for a presidential visit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as you know, the Gore-Mbeki Commission works in some respects, although a different set of issues and agenda items, similar in some ways to the way the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission works. It's a forum for identifying our bilateral concerns, advancing the process of democratization, economic renewal in South Africa, and promoting our interest in making the transition for the people of South Africa a real one. So, of course, the Vice President looks forward to very fruitful exchanges in that context.
I haven't seen his full itinerary, though. I know that he's got a number of issues that have been identified for additional work. They also have the opportunity in that forum to address regional issues of concern. I'm sure they'll have a discussion of central Africa and other points related to conflict resolution on the continent. And the Vice President looks forward to a very thorough exchange.
Q -- prepare a presidential visit?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything about a presidential trip to Africa during the course of the coming year, although it is a continent that the President would like to visit during the course of his presidency.
Q What's going on tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is going to do some work with the First Lady tomorrow on promoting adoption in America. And he's got some recommendations coming to him that will help move children from foster care to permanent homes that provide safe, nurturing environments. And at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow the President and the First Lady will be discussing that issue further with Secretary Shalala.
Q Does he think that -- I mean, it seems pretty clear that it's very difficult to adopt in this country, that a lot of the laws are -- is he going to --
MR. MCCURRY: We will review some of the steps that we have taken to make adoption easier, to facilitate adoption and encourage adoption.
Q Just dovetailing what you're saying, is this a follow-up to the whole adoption roll-out he did in his radio address several weeks ago?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it does build on some of the same stuff.
Q There are reports in the Israeli press that they're no longer interested in the extradition of Mr. Abu Marzook.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, extradition proceedings are a legal process and legal processes that are underway are things we don't routinely comment on. I just dodged the question. (Laughter.)
Q Has the Israeli government informed the United States government that they no longer --
MR. MCCURRY: They're all around, you can ask them all. You can ask their Prime Minister later, if you're interested.
Okay, see you later.
END 2:27 P.M. EST