THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let's just wait a second for Mr. Wolf Blitzer, Cable News Network. Wolf, we really don't want to get going until you're with us.
Q Thanks for joining us for our briefing today. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you for joining us, ladies and gentlemen, with Wolf Blitzer, featuring today's special guest, Mike McCurry, live from the White House.
Q The events --
MR. MCCURRY: The events, the issues, the battles, the bites. What do you have for us this week, Wolf? (Laughter.) Okay, we'll save that for Saturday night.
Let me start with a statement from the President that I will read. The President is obviously delighted that his nominee for Secretary of Transportation has just been confirmed. And he says, I want to applaud the Senate today for its strong vote of support for Federico Pena to serve as our nation's new Energy Secretary -- Energy Secretary, he was Transportation Secretary. As Transportation Secretary, Federico Pena built consensus among communities, business, and government and streamlined operations to reap benefits for all taxpayers. With this record, I am confident that Secretary Pena has the skill, experience, and dedication to lead the Energy Department to meet its central challenges to broaden America's energy resources, to promote a safer, more secure world, and to help to create a brighter economic future for all Americans.
Q And you put that out already?
MR. MCCURRY: Available to you now in written form.
Q Is he also delighted that Charlene Barshefsky was cleared through Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. (Laughter.) He was similarly delighted that the Office of U.S. Trade Representative will have the adroit leadership of Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky, who has already demonstrated her capacity for effectively advancing America's economic interests throughout the world through her patient, disciplined, detailed and effective trade negotiation.
Q Mike, have you received the waiver from the Congress and when will he sign it and when will she be sworn in?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a good question. That passed -- I believe under the sequencing it passed prior to, but that was a necessary waiver so she could take that and the President is pleased and gratified that a bipartisan consensus in Congress quickly developed that she should have such a waiver so she could take that post.
Q Has the waiver been received here at White House? When will he sign it and when will she be sworn in?
MR. MCCURRY: Boy, that is a detail that is beyond my limited, feeble capacities. It probably has not come back yet, but it will come at some proper point. In any event, I believe that he would have to sign that waiver -- or sign the legislation into law that grants the waiver prior to her formally being sworn into office.
I had one other thing --
Q Will the President veto any attempt to decertify Mexico, and what will he tell the senators coming this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let's do that first, and then I want to do a little on the summit, because some people have to do some work on the summit.
The President later today will have another opportunity to meet with some members of the Senate who will be considering soon the issue of the President's decision on certification of Mexico.
To repeat what we've said in the past, the President is absolutely certain that the certification decision he made is the best way to fight drugs. That's what this decision was about. It is what our partnership with the government of Mexico is about when it comes to our common efforts to combat drug trafficking. And the President is confident that through certification we advance the interests of our close bilateral cooperation when it comes to fighting drugs.
He would be very concerned that any decertification, even with the waiver for national interest purposes, would be an impediment to future cooperation in the fight against drugs. He strongly opposes that, will make clear that he prefers that the Senate take up at least the notion or the idea of endorsing certification. We understand that there will be alternative formulas that may advance. We'll have to look at each of those in turn. But the President made quite clear his strong views on certification, and that could be strong enough to include the possibility of a veto.
Q Mike, would he veto a decertification with a waiver?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said, we would be in close consultation, as demonstrated by the meeting today, about alternative formulas that might be advanced. We'd have to look and see what those formulas might be, but the President feels very strongly on the question of certification.
Q Would it be acceptable as a last resort --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on what type of language might be developed, but we'll look closely at what the Senate considers. We will try to affect the deliberations in the Senate by advancing the President's strong arguments for straight certification, and we'll see where the debate comes out.
Q Would he be welcome in Mexico if there is decertification?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that decertification would send a signal to the government of Mexico that could conceivably be interpreted negatively. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: And how would it affect --
Q Would the trip be canceled then?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the President will continue with our trip. Remember, we have very important binational issues that we address -- informally address annually, and they range from cooperation on environmental protection to dealing with questions related to immigration, to dealing with a whole host of cross-border cultural exchanges that we have. Mexico is a valued partner. We share a 2,000-mile long border, and we can't walk away from our responsibilities to be a good neighbor and to encourage good neighborliness.
Q Mike, about an hour or so ago, the Mexican Foreign Ministry let it be known that it was rejecting any U.S. call to allow American drug agents to carry weapons in Mexico. When you consider that and when you consider some of the other developments, like the release of a couple of Mexican drug lords from prison prematurely, what positive does the President have to point to since his decision to certify? When he meets with these senators, what can he say that's happened since the decision was announced?
MR. MCCURRY: He pointed to some of those, as you know, the other day in his press conference. The fact that they've removed more than 1,200 police and other officials for corruption, related charges --
Q This has been since the announcement.
MR. MCCURRY: These are recent enough developments that they were considered in the context of making the certification decision and are relevant, certainly, to the debate underway in Congress now. He immediately fired his previous drug czar when the evidence of corruption warranted that. They've also during the last year made substantial progress on drug seizures, on arrest, on crop eradication, destruction of clandestine labs used to precess illegal drugs. They've also passed new counter-narcotics laws to combat organized crime, money laundering and chemical diversions.
The official policy of the government of Mexico is to be an ally to the United States in the fight against drug trafficking and that's clear from their actions and clear from their pursuit of laws and law enforcement measures that allow them to be effective in the fight against drugs.
There are problems, to be sure. There are problems here in the United States in our own efforts to fight the war on drugs. But the point is to judge the performance in its totality and not to focus on isolated things that are contrary to what we want to see as progress forward in the overall fight against drugs.
Q Do you all accept as a given that the House is out of your control and --
MR. MCCURRY: The debate is fairly well along in the House, the views are very strong. We would not be surprised with a very large majority in favor of some other approach than the one that the President has chosen. We are concentrating our strongest arguments in the Senate and we think we have a very powerful case to make.
Let me turn to one other subject. Several people have asked about our preparations for the Helsinki summit next week and where we are. I want to announce one thing first, then talk a little bit about the summit itself.
The Russian Federation Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov is scheduled to arrive here in Washington this weekend. I believe the State Department has already announced that he'll be seeing Secretary Albright. The Defense Department either has or shortly will announce that he will also see Secretary of Defense Cohen over the weekend. I also expect him and now will tell you that he will see President Clinton on Monday morning here at the White House.
The overall purpose of the Foreign Minister's trip and his high-level discussions here are to finalize aspects of the summit next week in Helsinki. And let me tell you a little bit about the President's thinking as he prepares for that summit.
This will be his, obviously, his first meeting with President Yeltsin in his second term; it will be the 11th time that he has seen President Yeltsin. In some respects the meetings between the leader of the Russian Federation and the leader of the United States have become more ordinary than extraordinary. The high drama of diplomacy at the highest levels is giving way now to a very effective working partnership in which we meet regularly, in which we exchange views, in which we advance our bilateral interests. That makes sometimes for summits in which there are not dramatic new developments, but progress towards our overall goals.
The drama of this coming summit next week is defined by the drama of world history and the time in which we live. As we think of the 21st century and how we define the role that the United States and Russia play in the world, it is true to say that this coming summit next week is literally the first in which both Presidents will be able to think about the structure and architecture of the U.S.-Russian relationship as we look ahead to the 21st century. And in some respects, laying the foundation for a U.S.-Russian relationship in the 21st century will be the dominant theme of this summit.
I expect really three large areas of concentration during this summit. First, the efforts by both Presidents to further the efforts to build an undivided democratic, peaceful Europe for the first time in history. That obviously affects conversations about the future of NATO, the future of Russia's role in Europe, how it relates to Europe both formally and institutionally, and how it relates politically and in terms of security relationships.
Second, this will be a summit in which we will take steps to further reduce the nuclear arsenals of both countries that were the preeminent weapons of hostility during the period of the Cold War. Now that we are in the post-Cold War era, our efforts have been aimed at reducing tensions, reducing these arsenals and making them less dangerous through a variety of means.
And, third, the commercial trade and economic relationship that we have with the Russian Federation will get a special focus at this summit.
Very briefly, in the first of those areas, building an undivided, democratic, peaceful Europe, the two Presidents will obviously exchange views on NATO. NATO was the foundation of European security for 50 years. The question now is what's the future of NATO in the post-Cold War era. The issue of expansion, the issue of enlarging NATO to take in new members, the strengthening of the partnership for peace program that has really meant so much to the central European countries and the former members of the Warsaw Pact will be key areas of discussion.
And then, most importantly, how we build a robust NATO-Russia relationship will be foremost on the minds of the two Presidents. A lot of discussion will occur related to defining the practical elements of the charter between NATO and Russia that you've heard us talk a lot about here. They will not bring that discussion to any conclusion point next week because, of course, ultimately, the charter will be an agreement between the Alliance itself and the Russian Federation, and it must be taken in consensus with other members of the Alliance. But we expect we'll at least be able to advance that dialogue considerably further in Helsinki.
Q Where do they stand on it now?
MR. MCCURRY: They have said some positive things about their willingness to engage NATO on the elements of a charter. And those discussion are proceeding.
Second, the area of arms control, I think you know from the Vice President's discussions with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin there is great interest in how we deepen the reductions in both arsenals, consistent with the obvious that both countries have under START II. We will, of course, raise the issue of ratification of START II and the importance of action in the Duma on that, but there will be discussion of what steps follow START II and what types of reductions might be foreseen in an environment in which we could conceivably thinking of a third strategic arms reduction treaty.
And then, lastly, in the area of expanded trade and investment, there has been a great deal of international support for the liberalization of the Russian economy, the introduction of market elements, the provision of new economic assistance, capital and investment in Russia. And President Clinton, especially, in his previous conversations with President Yeltsin and his correspondence with President Yeltsin, has indicated that he wants to make that a prime area of focus as we talk about the future of Russia-U.S. relationship.
So that is a quick overview, for those of you who have to work on this sooner rather than later. I'll tell you on Monday the National Security Advisor and Secretary Albright will be here to give you a more detailed pre-trip briefing, so you'll get some more on this subject on Monday.
Q Is there some new package of assistance that he's going to offer the Russians?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll be in a position to talk more about how, through international lending and international financial institutions, we can stimulate progress towards economic growth and modernization and liberalization in the Russian Federation.
Q What Cabinet officials will accompany the President?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not -- have you guys seen a delegation list yet? Certainly we expect the Secretary of State, National Security Advisor -- I would imagine that the Secretary of Treasury will be there, too. We'll check. We'll tell you more about the composition of the delegation on Monday.
Q What will the President's approach be on the NATO-Russia relationship? Is this primarily just a case of reassuring Yeltsin that --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will share, as he often does with President Yeltsin, his firm beliefs about the nonhostile intention of a NATO that is adapting to the real issues that are on Europe's agenda as we think of the 21st century. NATO can be an enormously important tool for reducing tensions and hostilities, for addressing regional conflicts, ethnic conflicts that have long been a feature of tension within the continent of Europe. And the President will speak I think somewhat passionately about why NATO as an alliance -- NATO with a strong relationship defined precisely with the Russian Federation can be an instrument to keep peace from the Urals to the United Kingdom as we think of the 21st century.
Q Mike, you said that the charter would not be finished at this summit. But if it is prior to the meeting in Madrid in July, would the United States be favorably disposed to another summit to sign the charter?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the United States has encouraged a wide range of high level contacts between the Russian Federation and our European partners and, indeed, there have been those types of contacts -- President Yeltsin's meeting with President Chirac, his discussions with Chancellor Kohl. But there will be other opportunities in Europe in the coming months before the Madrid summit in July in which other leaders will be participating, and this will be a dialogue that will continue beyond Helsinki and will continue actively and vibrantly right up through Madrid. A good way of saying stay tuned.
Q As you look ahead to this summit, thinking about the Cabinet shake-up that Yeltsin's got on his plate, is Boris Yeltsin back in charge?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, my colleague, Nick Burns, said yesterday that Boris Yeltsin is back, and that is true both figuratively and literally. He has clearly in a fairly dynamic way come back on to the scene after his convalescence, has taken command of the government, has selected as his lead proponents early in the going -- or lead advocates within the government people who are well inclined towards the type of economic reform that the United States considers important. Obviously, the appointment of Anatoly Chubays fits that model.
So that evidences some desire to continue the path towards democratization and economic liberalization that have always been the hallmark of U.S. policy towards Russia. We support reformers, we support those who advocate reform. And President Yeltsin has come back to center stage now in the Russian Federation with those priorities very much in mind.
Q What do you say to those critics who argue that the President has put too many of his eggs in the Yeltsin basket?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would say that our support of reform in Russia has never been about one individual, which is why we pursue this relationship at so many levels -- through the Secretary of State; through Vice President Gore, who meets regularly with the Prime Minister of Russia; why we have a very active engagement through our business community and private sector community with their counterparts in the Russian Federation. This is a textured relationship that works at many different levels and has many different layers.
This happens to be the highest level, and it's why there's focus by all of you in it. But it works at many different levels, and the importance is to keep it working in the direction of modernization and reform as we think about where we want both the United States and Russia to be on the world stage in the 21st century.
Q What is the President prepared to offer Yeltsin in the way of fuller membership in the group of industrial nations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Denver summit will be one that will feature President Yeltsin's participation at a variety of levels. The stature of his participation in that annual event has changed and grown and evolved in just the four years that President Clinton has served. And that, I think, reflects the importance that the West attaches to full engagement with the Russian Federation.
Q Do you expect him to be invited to participate in -- will Yeltsin be invited to take part in the economic, as well as the political discussions?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be -- there are others that can tell you about the level of participation. But as I say, there has been an evolving level of participation and different features to the way in which Russia comes and participates annually in the Summit of Industrialized Nations and that will be true, too.
Q Where is Ickes through all this? I mean, where does he fit into this? Is he just a planner for --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, it is a major undertaking to host a Summit of the Industrialized Nations. And that is true for every nation that hosts it. We were very warmly received and hosted in Lyon, France last year. And the President's desire is to make sure we just as good a job as other partners in the G-7 in hosting this annual event. So he's got someone who has proven his effectiveness as a national convention planner and manager, as the chief --
Q You mean the Chicago convention?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And the Inauguration. Harold was the person principally responsible for putting together the White House work that went into the Inaugural planning. He's got the capacity to help organize and plan large events. But you'll hear from the policymakers -- I mean, they're -- separate from the logistical structure of the summit itself there are people who do the policy, and you'll expect to hear more from them as we get closer to the summit in June.
Q Why was Mr. Ickes here today?
MR. MCCURRY: For exactly that reason. There is a lot of work going on. He's here at least once or twice a week now working with those who've got responsibilities related to the Denver summit.
Q Does Congress have a role in the idea of expanding NATO? If new members are brought in in July, does Congress have a up or down, yea or nay, on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Bringing in a new member formally is an amendment to the North Atlantic Treaty. So they do -- they have the Senate's constitutional ratification responsibilities.
Q So the Senate would have to ratify that?
MR. MCCURRY: They would have to ratify that.
Q Secondly, what are the aspects that Mr. Primakov and the President and the Secretary are going to finalize this weekend? What are they trying to nail down before we go to Helsinki?
MR. MCCURRY: They will not prejudge or preconclude agreements that the two Presidents must discuss in Helsinki, but they will work through a detailed understanding of the agenda, the conversation points that both Presidents want to address, the other meetings that will occur between some of the delegations while we are in Helsinki. So really a good thorough review of the summit so we all are on the same page as the two Presidents gather to meet.
Q There are not going to be any agreements to come out of this summit? I mean, nothing that they're actually trying to nail down this weekend to sign off on?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be some things -- we always do take the opportunity of the two Presidents meeting to work forward and some of the things that we have going on constantly in the relationship. But in terms of the news values of this -- I want you to see the news value as part of the ongoing effort to manage one of the most important relationships in the history of world, which is what this is. And we do so in the somewhat less dramatic circumstances of two adversaries meeting. We now have two people committed to reform, committed to peace, committed to working together to advance common interests in a working environment in which the extraordinary has become routine.
Q Mike, to assuage Russian concerns about, and opposition to NATO expansion to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, would the President be willing to guarantee or make a pledge to Yeltsin that NATO would never encompass any former Soviet Union republics or territories?
MR. MCCURRY: We have made it very clear how we view the question of membership as NATO expands. It is an inclusive process. There is no one excluded from consideration. How they choose individual countries for membership and move forward is something that by now is well rehearsed for all of you. You know what our thinking is on that, and that's not likely to change.
Q Could I follow up on Gene's question? Does the President have any objections to Russia having a formalized, more permanent role as the -- in the Political Eight part of the G-7?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a question that we've always addressed with a great deal of care, because it's one that we cannot take unilaterally, we do it in concert with other nations. And you've seen the changes that have occurred over time. I think that's been a positive evolution of Russia's role within what has in the past been called the G-7, it's really now more properly the Industrialized Nations Summit. And Russia's role in it will change and evolve as the economic progress in Russia warrants.
Q Would the President like to see a consensus there by June to allow the announcement of that kind of inclusion?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, that's months away from now and requires a lot of speculation I'm not willing to do right now.
Q Has the President asked that the Democratic National Committee give back to the Cheyenne Arapaho tribe the money that they contributed?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but he fully supports the steps that the Democratic National Committee announced yesterday to work closely with the tribe and to determine the best disposition of the funds. They should be either returned or they should be used for outreach to Native American voters, and the President believes that the matter is being well handled by the national committee.
Q Does he remember discussing this with the members of the tribe who met with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't ask him that directly. I think that his understanding is -- and certainly -- I haven't asked him about what his specific recollection is, but they've said that they talked about their concerns, about their land-related issues, and the President certainly believes they did that.
Q And what's happened to those --
MR. MCCURRY: That is a matter that would be handled properly, appropriately by our irrespective of any donations made by the tribe to the Democratic National Committee. And by no means did the tribe need to have a contribution to the DNC in order to get a fair hearing in front of those who have to decide this issue within our government.
Q One year ago the President signed the Helms-Burton law. Today, one year. Do you have any comment on the effectiveness of the law?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the law has been effective in that the law was designed to further a longstanding U.S. policy of bringing about pressure on Fidel Castro to change the nature of his regime. And we do believe that the effect of the law has been to build that pressure that will lead Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba ultimately to change their system of government and to advance the principles of human rights, democracy and market economics that have made changes happen in former communist countries that are positive for the people of those countries.
The Helms-Burton Act with its necessary modification and waivers exercised appropriately by the President has been a useful tool in helping us advance the cause of a democratic and free Cuba.
Q There's been a lot of comparisons made between China and Cuba -- they don't respect human rights, and there's a difference, even. But now there is a new comparison being made by some people in Cuba with Korea. The United States had some talks with Korea last week and they say, well, there's not only China -- Korea is considered a rogue state and yet there is a dialogue with Korea.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I often say here, you're comparing apples and oranges. The history of the Korean Peninsula and the war fought there by brave Americans and others in the United Nations presents a much different historical environment in which to evaluate that relationship. Our deep concern about the North Korean nuclear program is also a principal difference and affects the way in which we approach issues on the Peninsula. We also have a very close ally, the Republic of Korea, that we work closely with as we address those questions.
There's not an analogous situation with respect to Cuba except for our participation in institutions like the Organization of American States and others. The difference in China -- you've heard me describe this before -- you've got a politically communist country committed to economic liberalization and changes. There is within U.S. policy -- the Cuban Democracy Act and aspects of it -- ways in which we could acknowledge steps toward economic liberalization and modernization if Fidel Castro were to take them. He has chosen not to, and that is one big difference between the way in which we relate to Cuba and China.
Q Mike, what is the status of the Gambling Commission? Are those appointments anywhere in sight?
MR. MCCURRY: They are in sight, but far enough on the horizon that I won't talk about them right now.
Q Earlier this week, or I guess last week, we talked a little bit about the issue of partial birth abortion and where the administration stands. With the bill being marked up in Congress, is the administration offering specific language, or what can you tell us about where that is and what's --
MR. MCCURRY: We have, in correspondence with the Congress in the past, made very clear the type of exception the President believes needs to be codified for him to support a measure that he is well willing to support, one that would outlaw late-term abortions under the circumstances in which in the past the President has expressed support. His concern has always been for the life and serious adverse health consequences of a woman, how they would be treated and accepted within any statute. And I think all the members of the committees working on this legislation are well aware of what the administration has put forward as language that would satisfy the President's deeply held concerns on this matter.
Q So do you see any hopes, any chance for compromise at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: I certainly do, because I think there are strong sentiments in Congress that this is a procedure and practice that needs to be constrained. It needs to be, in effect, outlawed. But there has to be the necessary exception that satisfies the President's concerns about the women that he has met with individually who have needed this procedure to be available for deeply personal reasons. And if that exception is acknowledged and codified in law, the President will happily sign a bill.
Q But I just want to make sure, because as I understand it, the Daschle compromise that the administration is supporting is more than just partial birth abortions, it's for all late-term abortions, with the caveat to protect the life and the well-being of the mother.
MR. MCCURRY: We would have to look very closely at any legislation, make sure, a, it met the concerns that the President has expressed very specifically, and, B, that it preserves the constitutional privacy rights that have been enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
Q The President's speech tomorrow in North Carolina, is this pretty much going to be a replay of the same two subjects that he addressed in Michigan?
MR. MCCURRY: Pretty much, but he will try to dress it up with a piece of news, so you might pay more than passing interest in it.
Q Tobacco? Will he talk about tobacco?
MR. MCCURRY: He doesn't plan to.
Q Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: But that might be an issue -- well, he's addressed that issue in North Carolina in the past, or in other tobacco-growing states. And he is willing to, but the focus of the speech will likely be, like his previous addresses to the legislature and like Vice President Gore's speech to the California legislature tomorrow, on the subject of the education challenge, how we advance it, the role that states can play, and then simultaneously our efforts to reform welfare as we know it, how we can engage state governments in making welfare reform a success, how we can build support in the private sector so that the jobs are available for dependent women.
And I suspect the President specifically tomorrow to talk again about the subject of standards, how important they are. I expect him to pay a special tribute to Governor Jim Hunt, who has been one of several of the most outstanding leaders at the gubernatorial level on the question of education reform. And he'll talk a little bit about maybe a step he can take as President and Commander-in-Chief to advance the argument he's made on national standards.
Q Ickes said that he did talk to the President about the documents that he had taken from the White House. Does the President feel it was okay for him to do it, even though his lawyer said, yes, it was okay?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President feel it was okay for him to do it even though his lawyer said, yes, it was okay?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President feels he was entitled to take with him those things he could lawfully take and those things that he wanted to take with him for his own personal use.
Q For example, what would that be?
MR. MCCURRY: Documents that reflected some of his work on the political campaign and -- by the way, further on that subject, the most recent issue of the National Journal has a good interview with the President on that general subject, if you haven't seen it.
Q I understand the President could use the Helsinki summit to announce some money for Russia for fighting corruption and improving their financial securities system. Do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCURRY: That sounds like an area that the President might likely want to address when he's in Helsinki.
Q Just to follow up, then, the President is not upset at all that Ickes pointed out how many perks the President put on the table during the fundraising period?
MR. MCCURRY: If you're referring to a specific document, I'd have to go back and ask the President's reaction to a specific document.
Q No, no, no -- but this is what these documents revealed.
MR. MCCURRY: No, each document is a specific document and says specific things and you can ask me specifically about it if you want.
Q He's not upset at all?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's tone of his feelings and support for Mr. Ickes are reflected in the interview I referred you to.
Q Well, I haven't seen the interview. Can you please tell us what they are?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll get you a copy. Happy to give you a copy.
Q Janet Reno said today the flap between the FBI and the White House is probably over a result of a miscommunication, a misunderstanding. Is that the White House's view now, too?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q What about -- so the President is now satisfied that it was just sort of a misunderstanding and that there's no more need to do anything to make sure that these kinds of miscommunications occur again?
MR. MCCURRY: The President wants Mr. Berger and Mr. Ruff to continue to look into and get the facts assembled and make any recommendations they want to make.
Q Mike, the House is taking up this resolution today, calling on the President to submit another budget. I know you've said in the past, no way, et cetera. What does this do to the attitude here, what is the President's attitude as we move towards these working groups which haven't even started, of course?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it means that we're getting into the more serious part of the budget season now, because there's some more active dialogue back and forth and people are beginning to try to shape the outcome of deliberations on the budget. And it's good, it's annual, it's less sharp in tone than has occurred in the past.
There is some suggestion today that the Republicans may be thinking about how they approach the question of cutting taxes and may be making some changes in their approach on that, and I think that's well and good. That means that they're entering into this less in a spirit of confrontation and more in a spirit of how do we get the job done, how do we balance the budget. And that's a positive thing, not a negative thing.
Q How would it make it less confrontational?
Q How are you going to feel after the comments --
Q How is today's resolution less confrontational?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's also some consideration of how they address the issue of tax cuts that I think is interesting. And there will be ample time here to, as both sides flesh out their positions and get into more detailed deliberations, to talk about how they reach agreement. But the distance between the sides is certainly a lot less than when we started previous annual budget cycles. So that leads everyone here to believe that prospects for engagement and dialogue and ultimate agreement are better than they have been in years past.
Q Mike, how does that run up against Senator Lott's suggestion several weeks ago that he could wrap the budget process up in pretty short order?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has always felt that. The President felt we could do that at the end of 1995 in short order. And he remains of the view today that if we set aside everyone's -- if we set aside partisanship and the spirit of confrontation and come together and work in a spirit of accommodation we could get an agreement.
Q So he doesn't think the House and the Senate can get their act together? Lott is saying one thing, the House is doing another.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, there's an active debate going on in the House in the Republican Caucus on how to address this and we'll watch that closely.
Q Can we revisit the abortion thing just for a moment? The criticism of the President's position, as you're well aware, has been that the exceptions that he wants appear to be too broad, that they would -- the critics say that they would allow virtually any reason for the procedure to take place. Is the President willing to sharpen that language enough to bring it down so it would affect just the kinds of women that he had with him in his appearance here?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been specific enough and I think passionate enough in his presentation on this subject that the members of the Congress working this legislation have a very good idea what they need to do to satisfy his concerns. I'm not going to try to write legislative language for you here, but I think they could do it and do it in a way that would satisfy him and we could get a bill that the President would be able to sign.
Q Well, what I mean, is the President insisting on something that would still allow the psychological well-being of the mother, the emotional well-being, in other words, that type of thing?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has made it clear in speaking to this issue so many times exactly what his concerns are and those who write legislation in the Congress can write legislation that would address those concerns.
Q But, Mike, should we assume from his remarks that when he says health, he means ability to bear children in the future?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's talked a lot about exactly that condition and why he passionately believes that's the reason, among others, why the practice has to be available. If there's any doubt on the part of any member of Congress what they need to do to satisfy the President's concerns, we would be happy to send them copies of what he said.
Q And you just said "reason among others." That's not the only reason?
MR. MCCURRY: Mara, we have been more than specific in addressing this concern with members of Congress, and there's no doubt or no ambiguity about the kind of language that would satisfy the President.
Q Can you talk about the 25 percent White House staff cut goal, and in light of yesterday's testimony -- is that still operative?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has reduced the size of the White House staff. This White House staff, throughout the President's second term, is going to be smaller than his predecessor's staff, but he achieved the 25 percent reduction, as many of you know, by reducing the size of what we believed at the time was an ineffective Office of National Drug Control Policy. The war on drugs has become even more important and a higher priority of this President, the effectiveness of that office has improved throughout the four years of his term, under the original director Lee Brown, and certainly now under General McCaffrey. We've added staff back to that because we frankly need to build up the war on drugs.
Also, if you haven't noticed, we've been dealing with a number of investigations and inquiries and questions not only from you, but from the Congress, on other matters which has required us to increase the size of the Counsel staff. So we'll have a smaller staff, but it probably won't be 25 percent smaller.
Q Mike, the more direct accusation is that you may have reduced it by virtue of your budget, but not by bodies.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not true, and Barry can walk through the numbers -- I think they did that on the Hill yesterday at some great length.
Q Yesterday you had said you were ready to go on those budget task force and you just didn't have the names from Hilley. Do you have those today? Can we get a list?
MR. MCCURRY: We have ours, but more importantly we need some of theirs and I'm not in a position to do that.
Q Can you put in perspective this latest disclosure that the President was aware that two of his political buddies had hired Webb Hubbell after he left the Justice Department?
MR. MCCURRY: I can refer you to the statement Mr. Davis has made on it, which is authoritative.
Q Back on the summit, the Russians are having trouble meeting their obligations on the international space station. Will that be brought up under the economic agenda --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether that will be or not. That has been a principal feature of the dialogue between the Vice President and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. They may touch on that in the basket of issues related to economic, science and technology issues, but I don't want to foresee that as a subject of discussion between the two Presidents. That would certainly be an issue that will be part of our ongoing dialogue with them and it could conceivably be addressed by some members of the delegation in Helsinki, but I don't want to foresee that as a subject on the President's agenda, although the value of space cooperation and what we're doing together is certainly something that both Presidents, I think, believe in deeply.
Q Mike, at the time that Mr. Hubbell left the Justice Department and when the President became aware that his friends had given him jobs, what was his understanding of Mr. Hubbell's legal problems? Do you think it was just a civil dispute inside the --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't answer that. I don't know what his understanding was.
Q Well, wouldn't he, if he thought he had a serious legal problem, wouldn't he have been perturbed that friends of his were hiring him?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, Mr. Davis made a statement on that. This involves two of his friends and two of Mr. Hubbell's friends who hired him. I don't have anything to add to Mr. Davis's statement.
Q Is the President troubled by the tone of Tony Lake's hearings? Does he feel that he's receiving a fair hearing?
MR. MCCURRY: Have they commenced again today? I haven't checked on how it's going. The President thought that Tony had done a very good job yesterday addressing concern, had spoken in a way that reflected his fundamental integrity and trustworthiness, had made it clear that he shares the President's belief in openness and accessibility when it comes to our national security consistent with the obligations we have to protect national security. And the President thought it was a very strong performance and was going to be convincing as senators deliberate over his nomination.
Now, I haven't followed what's happened today, but we expected they certainly didn't get through the long list of things that people had previewed as issues they were going to address. The President has been concerned and shares the concern of some members of the committee that that committee, which has provided excellent bipartisan oversight in the intelligence community has become slightly more partisan as a result of this issue. And the President is concerned about that.
But at the same time, he thinks that Tony Lake is someone that can overcome any division that does exist and get us back on the track of bipartisan support for the important role that information and analysis plays as we deal with all the things we've been talking about earlier in this briefing -- about America's challenges in the post-Cold War era.
Q Which senators are coming today?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's do some more on that Russia stuff? Do you want to? It's good. (Laughter.)
Q Which senators are coming today to the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have a full list, and my -- I'll tell you, our legislative affairs people are all skittish about putting out a list because they say, look, some of these folks we've invited up here for quiet consultations and we don't want to put too much of a spotlight on them because we want to try to persuade them. So, they're telling me that they're not anxious to release the list of everybody's who's there. But, as normally is the case when United States senators are here, those that want to see all of you are happy to kind of wander by. So keep an eye out for them.
Q What is the time of the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: At 4:45 p.m. I think they're going to be here.
Q How many have been invited?
MR. MCCURRY: It was like a dozen, a dozen plus -- something like that.
Q Do you think they're all going to show up?
MR. MCCURRY: They'll show up depending on whatever else they've got to do.
Q All Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: No, bipartisan group.
Q A full complement of the Cabinet members, too?
MR. MCCURRY: I forgot to look. It's like the one the other day. I think it's similar to the session we did earlier in the week where we had some of our top guns here.
Q On the task force, you have names for all five groups, so you're just waiting for --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we're set to go on our side, and we're waiting for further action up there.
Q Why can't you put yours out first? Would that be an --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it may be incomplete, and we want to work in a spirit of accommodation with those working to gather their members up there.
Q Senator Harkin today denounced the President's moratorium on human cloning and also doubted the President's authority to make such a decree. Any reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Does he want to clone? (Laughter.) I mean, is he advocating human cloning.
Q Yes, he is.
Q He had it has some scientific benefits.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President recognized and acknowledged the statements that Dr. Shapiro and others made that there is value in biogenetic research. In fact, why he took care to address this and why he referred it to the Bioethics Advisory Commission was precisely so we don't disrupt the type of research that shows great promise. There are potential cures for cancer, a great number of things that could advance the health interests of all Americans that are in this research.
The President's specific concern is a matter of spiritual reflection and scientific concern was the issue of cloning human beings. And he said that's the one in which we needed to put the brakes while the overall implications are addressed. And if the Senator -- Senator Harkin takes a different view of that, we would just respectfully disagree.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Put me out of my misery.
Q She did.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Helen.
END 2:25 P.M. EST