THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:25 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do a couple of announcements. The first one that I have -- David is going to do a chore for me so we can get underway here. Item the first, the President of the United States of America will travel to Lansing, Michigan, on Thursday, March 6, to address the Michigan State Legislature. This is one of several trips you've heard the President say he will take in the course of the coming year. The Vice President will be out, too, to address in appropriate state settings the challenges that exist for all levels of government as we deal with reforming education and reforming welfare. The President, as he did with the Maryland State Legislature, will specifically talk about welfare reform, the important role the states play, certainly the very interesting experience in Michigan with that subject. And he'll also talk about the federal aspects that exist as we reform welfare as we know it. And then, obviously, the President will continue to press his argument about reforming education, the things that we need to do to have world-class standards for quality in America's schools, picking up on some of the same themes that you heard him address earlier today in front of the Business Council.
Q How are you picking the states, Mike?
Q Starts with M. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: There's a lot that goes into it. It's a complicated process -- and places that are fun to go, interesting settings for the speech and interesting people to talk to. And certainly, the Governor is an interesting person as well.
Q In other words, you have no idea why we're going there. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's an interesting state, it's a great state. I lived in Lansing one time in my life. That's not the reason we're going. (Laughter.)
Okay, now, moving on -- I just want you to know in case you did not know that the President's National Security Advisor and the Deputy Secretary of State are in Haiti today. Sandy Berger and Strobe Talbott went down there for a day of meetings with President Preval, other senior Haitian officials. There aims, to review the important progress that Haiti has made in consolidating and strengthening its democracy and encourage them to make continued efforts at reform, to do more to limit violence, to work on the progress that we've seen in Haiti, since Haiti's liberation from the de facto regime. Have a full day of meetings down there. Maybe David can tell you more about that if you are interested.
Item the third. I'm going to break an embargo, sort of. Some of you know that the Centers for Disease Control is releasing at 4:00 p.m. today some very important statistics about AIDS, and I'm going to share with you a short statement from the President. We have it in written in form as well. The President is encouraged by today's report from the Centers for Disease Control on an historic reduction in the number of Americans dying from AIDS, and further evidence that this very terrible epidemic, in the President's words, "is beginning to yield to our sustained national public health investment in AIDS research, prevention and care."
The President in his statement says, "In these last four years, we have steadily increased our national commitment to fighting HIV and AIDS. We have increased funding for the programs by more than 50 percent, developed the first-ever national AIDS strategy, accelerated approval of successful new AIDS drugs by the Food and Drug Administration, strengthened and focused the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health and created a White House Office on National AIDS Policy. And we have made good progress. But it is also clear that the AIDS epidemic is not over. We must continue to press ahead if we are to meet our ultimate goal to end this epidemic to find a cure for those who are living with HIV and a vaccine to protect everyone from this virus."
Q Mike, the numbers of death are down, but are the numbers of those contracting HIV or those with AIDS, are they down?
MR. MCCURRY: The report addresses some of that. That is, as I say, embargoed. The CDC's numbers are embargoed until 4:00 p.m. We can talk a little bit more about that at that time.
Q And related to that, there's been a push over the past couple of weeks to get the federal government to endorse some sort of needle exchange. Where is the White House on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Shalala has been looking at some of the data coming in on the needle exchange program. I should really leave it in her province to address that. That's ultimately a call that has to be made on public health policy grounds. They're looking at the results of some of the experimentation that has occurred in local jurisdictions.
Q How do you read the polling on the fundraising business? Is this something --
MR. MCCURRY: Hold on. Before we move to other subjects, David has a report.
MR. JOHNSON: So you already have this, Terry, you don't need it?
Q We'd like to hear the American version. We have what the Russians say about it.
MR. JOHNSON: President Yeltsin spoke today beginning about noon Eastern Standard Time, for about 20 minutes -- Clinton and Yeltsin.
Q Start again.
MR. JOHNSON: The President of the United States of America and the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Yeltsin, spoke today at about noon Eastern Standard Time. Their conversation lasted about 20 minutes. As some of you know, they used consecutive translation.
This is part of a continuing pattern of consultations that the United States and the Russian Federation have had as we lead up to the summit in Helsinki. They followed up on some of the issues that were discussed when Secretary Albright was in Moscow last week, and when Prime Minister Chernomyrdin was here in Washington for the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission meetings earlier in the month.
They agreed on basically a three-part agenda for the Helsinki summit. The first item is going to be European security and the efforts of the United States and its allies and the Russian Federation to create a new security architecture for Europe, which reflects the realities of the post-Cold War world. They're going to spend some time on the second item, and that is arms control, and our efforts to lower the level of armaments, particular nuclear arms; and third, on economic issues, and they're going to concentrate there on the economic interaction between the United States and the Russian Federation and our efforts to support their reform process and their economy as it moves forward.
We're going to have expert teams from the United States traveling to Moscow over the course of the next few weeks in advance of the summit on all three of those agenda items, and their work there will help prepare for the summit in Helsinki and we believe make it a very successful venture. The President and President Yeltsin both look forward to meeting with each other and they closed off with that.
Q David, do you expect President Clinton, by the time he gets to Helsinki, to be able to offer Yeltsin a specific START III proposal with some numbers as to a lower limit of nuclear weapons?
MR. JOHNSON: I know that as our expert teams travel to Moscow, arms control, and particularly nuclear arms control is one of the items on the agenda. I don't think I'm in a position to forecast where we're going to be on that at the time, but we certainly hope to move that process forward in Helsinki.
Q Can you tell us how much work is being done at least at this end?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, I can tell you that an arms control team will be going soon in order to try to work out some things with the Russians in order to move this process forward.
Q Did they talk today about NATO expansion?
MR. JOHNSON: They talked about European security; NATO expansion was mentioned, but this was basically a reasonably abbreviated call to agree on the agenda and to talk about the teams that are going to be going forward.
Q Anything at all following up on Yeltsin's comments and some of the hints of new flexibility, perhaps?
MR. JOHNSON: No, it wasn't an opportunity or it wasn't taken as an opportunity to negotiate on these specific issues; more to agree on this being the agenda that we need to move forward on for the summit.
Q But, David, do you have an understanding of what this compromise that Yeltsin suggested might be accepted at Helsinki consists of? What kind of compromise is he talking about?
MR. JOHNSON: I know that when our teams get there next week -- not necessarily next week on this issue, but during the course of the next few weeks, one of the things they're going to be talking about is how we move forward on the NATO-Russian charter and how we move forward on the other issues related to NATO expansion. But this was not a detailed conversation about those issues, and I don't think it's going to be productive to try to move that forward here.
Q David, is Yeltsin expected to attend the G-7 in Denver?
MR. JOHNSON: He's expected to attend the Denver summit as far as I'm aware, yes.
Q Can you say what support you're offering on their economic reforms, more specifically than simply the word "support"?
MR. JOHNSON: Not at this point. I think that as the agenda item gets further developed during the expert team meetings, we might be able to talk about that a little further. But I can't --
Q Bank loans or lending or --
MR. JOHNSON: I can't help you with that today.
Q Who initiated the call?
MR. JOHNSON: I believe we did, but let me make sure.
MR. MCCURRY: If I'm not mistaken, I think in the President's letter to President Yeltsin, delivered by Secretary Albright, there was also a suggestion that they touch base by phone sometime sooner. That was one of the outcomes of that conversation. And obviously, on the question of what type of discussions we are having with the Russian Federation, remember that those are discussions between NATO and the Russian Federation, and Secretary General Solana has been instrumental in presenting on behalf of the Alliance many of the ideas we have for the development of a newly defined relationship between NATO and the Russian Federation.
Q Can you address this polling on the fundraising question? Is it something -- do you think the polling looks good and is this something the White House can weather quickly, or long-term, or how?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, I didn't look at it that carefully. Are you talking about the CNN-USA Today poll? As a general proposition, the President believes that the American people are interested in seeing progress on things like balancing the budget, reforming our welfare system, having world-class standards on education and protecting Americans from crime in neighborhoods -- issues that he has been addressing each and every one of the past several days. That's what he was elected to do, he believes, by the American people. And I think that as long as the American people understand that that's what he gets up, comes here and works on each and every day, they will be generally satisfied with his performance. And that's the best way to interpret, I think, that poll.
Q Mike, what is the White House reaction to Mr. Greenspan's remarks on the stock market? And is the administration prepared to take any action should there be -- when there is a substantial drop in the stock market?
MR. MCCURRY: We leave it up to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to move the market, and we don't attempt to do it here, so we decline to have any specific comment on his remarks. I think they spoke -- he certainly spoke for himself, but he's an astute observer of national economic trends. And the President appreciates the opportunity he has from time to time to share views with him.
Q Mike, you didn't include campaign finance reform in that list of tasks that the President gets up every morning to perform.
MR. MCCURRY: Campaign finance reform is indeed one of them. He continues to address that, has sessions working on that. I expect that he will have some further things to say on that next week, as a matter of fact, and that is a very high priority, because it addresses while it's -- going back to the question, it's not indicated as a subject of high concern or interest on the part of the American people, it is a subject of high interest to the President himself and it's one that he believes it's important to continue to work on.
Q But so far all he's done on that is just a lot of exhortations.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not accurate. He has worked closely with those who are sponsors of bipartisan legislation in both the House and the Senate, to discuss with them how we can advance that legislation. There's been a great deal of work done by the President and by the staff here at the White House, working with congressional staffs to plan the best way to advance that legislation and the best way to move it forward. I think it's a lot more than the bully pulpit.
Q Well, is he prepared to use some hardball tactics to tie campaign finance reform to some of the Republican priorities?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he wants to, working with the sponsors of the legislation, find the best way to take this important opportunity to advance that very important legislation. This will be an ongoing effort in the course of the coming weeks because there's nothing that's currently pending on either the floor of the House or the Senate. But it's one that we will work with members to advance.
Q In view of the admission by that abortion rights official that he lied in certain aspects of the partial birth abortion controversy, that's caused a stir up on the Hill, whereby several Democratic senators are beginning to say they may change their votes the next time around. So if such a bill came up to the President for signature again, if it were passed, would he veto it this time?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, remember, the President's goal on this subject has been what he told Congress he wanted to see happen in his most recent correspondence with the Hill on the subject. He said he does not believe that the procedure is always used in circumstances that meet the President's own standards, which is that there should be exception only for cases in which the serious adverse health consequences to a woman are indicated.
But the President indicated the procedure may well be used in those situations, but as a general proposition he does not support use of the practice, certainly not as an elective practice. So he indicated at the time he corresponded last with Congress that he would sign legislation banning that procedure if it had that exception. That continues to be his position, and we would hope that as any possible legislation moves, it would take into account the President very strong feelings on that need for a narrowly defined exception.
Q Did the President indicate any personal reaction to Mr. Fitzsimmons' statement saying that he lied about the statistics?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that he shared with me.
Q Would this make him more inclined, though, then, to see some sort of restrictions put on when it can be performed?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that the statements by -- I don't know that his statements affected the President's thinking on the subjects. One, the President had thought about a lot as he had to consider the legislation passed by Congress, as he had to exercise a right to veto that legislation. He's pretty well developed his own thinking about how we limit this procedure and why it should be limited, given that it needs to have one specific exception for health consequences that are adverse to a woman.
Q What kind of timetable does the President have in mind for this announcement that he mentioned yesterday regarding the CPI, and is he talking about an alternative to Senator Lott's proposal, or accepting Senator Lott's proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he has a specific timetable in mind. I do believe that he thinks it's important working with the bipartisan congressional leadership to do those things that he has identified in the past to assure that, first, we do have cost of living adjustments that allow Americans to see the value of benefits protected and allow them to see some of the tax incidents that would otherwise be indicated by inflation put under some measurable limit. But he also has the goal of making sure that any cost of living adjustment is as accurate as possible. And I think sharing the sentiment that Senator Lott expressed, he does believe that that should be based on broad technical agreement from experts on what the right measure of inflation is.
Now, how you get to the process that you make that measurement is something that we've had good conversations with Senator Lott and others on the Hill about. We haven't had any conversations with Senator Lott that we haven't had with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. They will all have to come together as they look at that question and as they think of how they find the right process for addressing it. Now, the idea of a commission has been suggested by Senator Lott, there may be others with other ideas, too. We intend to pursue those in the discussions that we have in coming days.
Q How recently has he spoken with Senator Lott about this?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know when he last spoke to him, but I know that some members of our staff have been in fairly recent direct contact with the Senator and his staff.
Q But is the President going to make some announcement? He used the phrase "not too distant future" about this subject.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think I did a good job of not defining "not too distant future," but it's one that is clearly that we've been working on and having conversations with people on the Hill about.
Q Mike, is the White House willing to provide the Senate Intelligence Committee with the full FBI background report on Tony Lake?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House is more than willing to work with Senator Shelby and members of the staff to satisfy any concerns they have. And specifically with regard to any background work that has been done, we will work closely with the staff and address their concerns, make sure that they feel they have information that they need to satisfy any questions that they might have.
Q Well, let me try it a different way. Is the White House irreparably adverse to providing this full report to the committee?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're interested in satisfying concerns that senators may have, and there may be a number of ways to do that. We'll work in an amicable fashion with Senator Shelby and his staff to satisfy those concerns. There may be a number of ways to do that, and my understanding is that we have good conversations underway with his staff to resolve.
Q Do you think it's a legitimate request by Shelby for the full report?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that it's legitimate for senators to exercise their advice and consent role, and if they have concerns we attempt to address them in the course of a nomination proceeding.
Q Mike, the DNC has apparently completed an internal review of its campaign collection procedures and is going to implement even newer solicitation procedures tomorrow. Have they shared this review with the White House, and do you have an you sort advance thoughts on how well they did?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that they have indicated to us that they plan to complete that review and make it public, I believe, tomorrow. But my understanding was that we probably would not get a briefing on it until later in the day today. So I'd leave it to them to make the announcement.
Q Have any of the five budget task forces been assembled yet?
MR. MCCURRY: John Hilley, who's the President's Director of Legislative Affairs -- newly empowered with an even bigger and better title than that, I think -- has been on the Hill, and there has been considerable progress on structuring those five working groups. We probably will leave it to those who are working with on the Hill to talk about those more. But they're in formation and I think have got a good idea now of how they're going to proceed, who's going to participate, what the specific agenda items are going to be. I suspect there will be more to say on that in coming days.
Q Is the President continuing the practice of inviting big money contributors to the White House as overnight guests?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen any here recently.
Q Does that mean that he has stopped, I mean, that he has decided not to invite them?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it just means that there haven't been any here recently.
Q What do you mean by "recently," Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. We released to you the names of everyone who stayed through calendar year 1996. I don't have a list of those who stayed, if any, in 1997.
Q So do you assume that the practice has stopped?
MR. MCCURRY: That would imply that he's made some conscious decision to end the practice, and I think he addressed himself to why he thinks it's an appropriate practice yesterday.
Q Mike, Senator Archer held a news conference today at which he said that the FY'98 budget would have triggers that cut off the tax cut provisions on December 31st, 2000. Is that an accurate characterization of the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: The accurate characterization of the budget is the formal submission of the proposal that we made and the language therein. We're now working on a technical question of how you write legislative language that would implement some aspects of the trigger-on, trigger-off proceedings, and my understanding from several of the experts who tried to educate me on this is that it's a very highly technical matter that is best briefed by tax experts at Treasury or elsewhere.
Q Do you dispute what he said? He's saying, regardless of whether it was in the budget, or not, and you were, in fact, deliberately vague in the budget's mention itself -- do you dispute what he saying, that you'd cut them off at the end of 2000?
MR. MCCURRY: No, our view is that there is no need for the provision anyhow, because as projected by the Office of Management and Budget, the budget is in surplus at the year 2002, but we have made it clear to Congress that we will work with them on developing the correct mechanism for alternative scenarios, and we think we can do that in a fashion that irons out any disagreements.
The important thing is, the President has a proposal for targeted tax relief that fits within the structure of a balanced budget proposal. The President's confident that the budget that he's presented will balance by the year 2002, and also achieve the tax relief that he's proposed.
Q Mike, there's no need for what provision?
MR. MCCURRY: The trigger provision.
Q But, Mike, if I can follow on that, the legislation that the administration sent up to the Hill, which technically is what it is that the President is proposing, would take four of his tax breaks and end them in 2000. So how could they be permanent?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not under a scenario that the President foresees, and we are working with the Congress on legislative language that will address alternative scenarios.
Q Archer also asked the President to take a second look at his budget plan. Will he or Franklin Raines be taking a second look to see --
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a very good, credible balanced budget proposal, and the important thing is for Congress to take a look at the President's proposal. It's in some ways encouraging that Chairman Archer is doing exactly that and they're looking for the right ways to address certain aspects of the President's tax proposals and picking up on the earlier question, one of the five working groups that's trying to find some areas where we can develop common approaches with Congress is in the area of taxation. So there's more work to be done within that context on exactly these kinds of issues.
Q On Mexico certification, is that tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not clear to me. The State Department has not forwarded to the President any recommendations at this point, and the President will want to have discussions with his advisors, there will be others here who will want to meet and work through those issues, and I don't rule it out for tomorrow, but it's not necessarily tomorrow.
Q How seriously do you take the critics from Colombia and Mexico against the principle?
MR. MCCURRY: We're aware of those criticisms, but we also have U.S. law that the President's responsible for enforcing. The specific determinations on certification are delegated to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State will forward her recommendations to the White House and we will follow our law.
Q Are you expecting that recommendation to come over today?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not clear. But in any event, the President will not likely turn his attention to it until tomorrow.
Q Is he going to announce Colombia and Mexico at the same time?
MR. MCCURRY: That's traditionally done, but I don't want to speculate on announcements until they're reviewed by the President.
Q Mike, how does he respond to the complaints from Senator Feinstein, Gramm, Gephardt, some of the others on the Hill on this issue, and how does he plan to address those concerns?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, depending on -- after carefully looking at the law, looking at the Secretary's recommendations and doing what the President believes is right, if he has some disagreement with those members he'll defend the decision that he makes.
Q Are those valid concerns, though, that they're --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think they're motivated by the same thing the President is motivated by, which is a desire to see maximum effort done to control the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. And I think that encouraging the best possible cooperation from the Mexican government is a goal that we share with those members.
Q On a related topic, do you have any insight into the American who was kidnapped and murdered and found in Colombia? Was that seen as a warning of --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information with me here. I know that they've addressed that at the State Department and I think briefed on it yesterday.
Q Do you anticipate the decision, no matter what it is, would not affect the President's trip to Mexico City?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that the President's decision would likely affect the President's planned travel to Mexico.
Q Mike, this morning the trustees of the President's legal defense fund put out their report on the second half of the year. The outstanding legal bills now total $2.25 million and the contributions for the period total only about $62,000.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that the President is painfully aware of those facts.
Q How big a burden is this on the First Family and how are they ever going to pay off these bills?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I refer you to the President when he's addressed that question in the past. He said he's young and vigorous and expects to be an employable ex-President and he expects to honor his obligation to pay those bills. He said that in the past and that remains his view.
Q Secretary Cuomo is on the Hill testifying about affordable housing rescue plans and that's part of the President's budget. What are the key points that the President wanted Cuomo to put out to Congress today?
MR. MCCURRY: Whichever ones he's making.
Q Mike, this question may strike you as naive, but since Harold Ickes got his $125,000 salary paid by the taxpayer, why should he be spending apparently the bulk of his time doing things like negotiating with consultants, arranging the Democratic fundraising and running the campaign? Wasn't he essentially working for the campaign and for the DNC?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if you're familiar with Harold and his long hours of work here, I think you'd be mischaracterizing the work he did. He had a large range of assignments as Deputy White House Chief of Staff, some of them involved the supervision of the President's political efforts. But he also had a large volume of additional duties. I wouldn't characterize his work here based on only those documents you've seen as a result of our disclosure.
Q Did the Counsel's Office ever have to review, make a formal review of what percentage of time he spent on political duties versus official duties? And is that an appropriate mix?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not required by the law because the only requirement we have, which is a voluntary one, not in statute, is that folks at the White House devote a 40-hour work week to the taxpayers. And there is no question in anyone's mind here, I hope, that Harold at least satisfied that obligation. But he also had -- you can do political work here at the White House, there's nothing that restricts that. The restrictions pertain to the use of government resources in connection with political work.
Q Mike, I believe the President reacted to the shooting in Fayetteville when it happened, the verdict came down and the former paratrooper was found guilty. Did the President catch the verdict? Did he have a reaction to it? And did he have any thoughts about the Army probe?
MR. MCCURRY: Have not had a chance to talk to him about that. I don't know whether he had a reaction or not.
Q Mike, the President in his news conference mentioned a need to get to the bottom of Gulf War illnesses. The Pentagon today has indicated that there are -- it's discovered that more documents from its chemical and biological weapons log are missing, and the National Commander of the American Legion has a release out calling for an independent commission with subpoena power to get to the bottom of it. How would you assess that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has a lot of faith and confidence in his advisory commission, as he said yesterday. They've done a lot of work; in fact, it's arguable that the President's effort, stimulated by the First Lady's interest and her own discussion with a number of veterans and their families, the effort to put that commission in place is what has really triggered the effort, as the President said, to leave no stone unturned in looking at what happened during the previous administration.
That continues to be our view, that commission continues to work. The President gave them an additional mandate to look at some of the questions related to the discovery of documents yesterday, as you know, and the President has full faith and confidence that the advisory commission will be able to produce the kinds of answers, or at least get the --if not the answers, at least be able to establish what documentary record ought to exist in the work that they're doing.
Q Does the President believe that they're hampered at all by a lack of subpoena power?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that there has been any issue in which documents that the commission has obtained were not obtainable, but I would really refer you over to them and let them answer that question.
Q Just getting back for a moment to the question of partial-birth abortions, if, in fact, a bill comes up again the way it did the last time without the health exception that the President is demanding, would he veto it again?
MR. MCCURRY: You know the President's strong feelings on that, and you can imagine what his action would be. But we believe for those who are truly concerned about ending the practice as an elective practice or ending it in circumstances in which it's not indicated, that there would be a willingness on the part of those members pursuing this matter on the Hill to accommodate the President's very deeply felt concerns about serious health consequences for a mother. And if they address those satisfactorily, the President would look forward to signing legislation rather than having to exercise a veto.
Q Mike, just to follow on that, if I recall, did he not in his veto announcement cite statistics and the statistics that this doctor had -- does he not feel ill-served about the fact that the stats may have been --
MR. MCCURRY: If it was clear -- we cited five statistics in particular. The five women who stood with him in the room as he exercised the veto. The number is not as significant as the principle. If it's important for the life of a mother or for her health, which would be seriously and adversely affected if the procedure was not available, then it's important to have that exception available.
Q Mike, back to Mr. Ickes. When the administration first came in, the archivist put out a note telling everyone to preserve their documents for the library for historical records. Did he violate any rules by taking this stack of documents with him outside?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not. The governing act is the Presidential Records Act. It allows individuals to retain personal records, and there's a very complete description that's available of what personal records constitute. The White House Legal Counsel has reviewed those documents that were disclosed, and is of the opinion that he properly had custody of those documents.
Q A couple of things on tobacco. Number one, does the President plan to do anything tomorrow to mark the beginning of the FDA regulations? And, second, although Governor Allen has apparently countermanded his State Attorney General's declaration that he wasn't going to enforce the I.D. regulations, do his statements cause any sort of concern as to whether or not the regulations are going to be enforced?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, a couple things. First question, the President will have an opportunity tomorrow to mark the first effective day of his proposed regulations. They do go into effect tomorrow. The President will be joined by Secretary Shalala and Dr. David Kessler, who I think will be serving his last day as Administrator of the FDA. And the President will talk about the importance of restricting access and advertising of tobacco as it pertains to kids.
The President's public health goal here is very clear, which is to reduce tobacco smoking by children. And we believe a very effective set of regulations aimed at exactly that purpose. We expect cooperation by local authorities in administering the federal law, although it's ultimately the federal government's task to enforce the regulations that go into effect tomorrow.
But we believe that state and local governments will certainly see the importance of addressing the public health priorities that the President has defined -- curbing tobacco use by kids. The regulations have been very carefully drawn up with a lot of input from local public health authorities and from local jurisdictions. And we'll be able to address any concerns that states have. We would, of course, welcome any decision by the state of Virginia to assist in the effort to enforce these federal regulations.
Q Mike, speaking of Dr. Kessler, might he be close to naming Dr. Kessler's successor?
MR. MCCURRY: No, in fact, tomorrow Dr. Michael Friedman, who has been the lead deputy of the FDA and is an acknowledged expert on many areas of public health that the administration has to address, will take up his position, I believe, as Acting Director. And the search for a replacement goes on. They're looking for someone of excellent reputation, someone who can continue the very fine and courageous service that Dr. Kessler has rendered to the country.
Q Mike, speaking of health appointments, does the President plan to leave the post of Surgeon General vacant?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily. There has been a search underway for a candidate for Surgeon General. There are still some issues that are being addressed and conversations we're having with the Department of Health and Human Services on the subject. But I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he would send forward a candidate for Surgeon General.
Q What kind of issues?
MR. MCCURRY: The question of how best to structure the administration's pursuit of public health policy goals.
Q Mike, in preparing for G-7 summit, is Ickes also going to be Clinton's policy Sherpa, or is his role merely confined for the logistics of organizing the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: He has given his extraordinary ability in organizing large events. You know, he was also principally responsible for supervising the work done on our national convention and also the Inauguration itself. So his familiarity with large events of consequence is I think well-known. But we have a very meticulous policy process in place that has worked well for United States participation in G-7 summits and involves the National Security Council, the National Economic Council. We have policy people and then others in our government who participate in a lot of the sessions that worked up to the G-7. Secretary Rubin, as you know, was just at a G-7 finance ministers meeting recently, so the policy process would be the one that we've used in the past.
Q On Gulf War, I've been told that U.S. policy would have been to go ahead with blowing up the depot even if there was firm CIA knowledge that there was chemical weapons, that the decision was made to go ahead anyway with it. Can you look into that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to attempt to look into that. If you look at the briefing transcripts over at the Pentagon from Tuesday and presumably from today, too, you will see that they spent probably well over an hour on exactly that subject Tuesday, and I would refer you to what they've already said there.
Q On the question on the list of names of overnight guests released on Tuesday, in the spirit of disclosure, can the White House also release the dates that were associated with those days?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check and see. It's, as a practical matter, a little hard to do. A lot of people, particularly their closest friends, stayed on a number of occasions and stayed multiple times, and sometimes stayed for more than one night at a time. Typically, if they had family up, for example, they would stay for two or three days, or longer sometimes. But if you're interested in a particular person, we'll see if we can help you in identifying dates.
Q Can we get the number of people who stayed and the number of nights they stayed?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll work with Ann Lewis and see what we can provide.
Q The Bush disclosure yesterday said that that was based on the Usher's record. Is that what the disclosures were based on?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. If you can call Ann Lewis, she might be able to help you.
Q Getting back to the Cuomo on the Hill, how was he received?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with his testimony on the Hill, so you will have to -- we can check for you. We assume that he got the very warm and encouraging reception that he deserves.
Q Can you provide any specifics for what the President and the First Lady will be doing with Chelsea in New York for her birthday this coming weekend -- what shows, ballet, whatever?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Look, it's a family occasion and it's a private outing for the family. They're going to go up, they're going to take in some shows, probably have some meals and have some fun. I think I'll leave it at that.
Q Back to the budget for a second. Republican leaders yesterday said that they plan to do a budget resolution of their own in consultation with the White House and try to get those broad outlines, broad numbers done by the middle of March. Does that process meet with the President's expectations about how to craft a bipartisan budget and get it done by Thanksgiving?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President is satisfied that the Republican leadership is working toward the same goal that he's working towards -- a balanced budget that would achieve something historic -- balancing the budget by the year 2002, there will be different ways that the two branches of government will go about getting that done, but at the end of the day they will come together and they'll come together and get the job done, and he believes that.
Q Is the White House prepared to participate in the process of crafting a resolution by mid-March?
MR. MCCURRY: They write the resolution on Capitol Hill, so we don't directly participate. But in a sense, we've already given them a good head start on writing a resolution by giving them a very credible balanced budget proposal.
Q Actually, what they were describing yesterday was a process in which they would reach out by committee to the available Cabinet Secretaries and get them to provide very direct input.
MR. MCCURRY: That's exactly how the budget process works. Interestingly, it's how it's supposed to work. In previous years, it hasn't worked because there has been a standoff between the two branches of government. What you're seeing is a return to regular order in the implementation of the budget act schedule for consideration, which has not always been Congress's disposition and not always been there ability to meet the statutory-imposed deadlines.
So we're encouraged by what we're seeing. They're dealing with the President's budget seriously. They're seriously considering the President's proposals. There is engagement on a range of issues that are related to balance the budget. But no one disputes the President's determination -- we don't dispute their determination -- to arrive at the goal. We've got some differences on how we're going to do it, but we believe we can work those out.
Q Along that line, do you think the latest of the blue dog proposal might pose a possible middle ground? It has means testing in it for Medicare. It also has a CPI provision in it.
MR. MCCURRY: It's got a lot of interesting ideas in it, and produced by a lot of people whose ideas we take very seriously, but it becomes one of those documents now in the mix of consideration as we work together with the legislative branch to get the job done.
Q On the topic of the Golden Venture detainees released from prison yesterday, why did it take the President so long to order their release?
MR. MCCURRY: He took the time necessary to make the decision correctly and appropriately.
Q -- softening in his position on asylum seekers?
MR. MCCURRY: No, as our statement at the time indicated, it did not.
Q I have a question from the home office. How does the President feel about --
MR. MCCURRY: Which home office is that?
Q The home office of my news organization. How does the President feel about McDonald's lowering the price of a Big Mac to 55 cents?
MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't had one in such a long time that I doubt that he's got any particular point of view on that.
Q Do you know when the last time he did go to McDonald's was? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He went and got a cup of coffee in Hawaii, but that was the first time in probably a couple of years that he had been.
Q -- but what is the U.S. government's position on the Israeli decision to go ahead with building that new settlement at Har Homa in East Jerusalem?
MR. MCCURRY: You really want me to do that one? Let me -- it's one that I will not attempt to do without visual aids.
Our view is that -- our focus now has to be one building confidence and trust between the parties, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That's the way for them to cement their relationship. That's the way for them to create the momentum that the President called on in the aftermath of the Hebron agreement. The Israeli's government's decision on Har Homa is not a step that will build confidence. Frankly, we would have preferred that the decision not have been taken.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Boy I tell, if I had tried that at the State Department, we would have been here for another hour.
END 3:09 P.M. EST