THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:20 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Happy St. Patrick's Day. I'll duck out of here if I can in a short while to see -- to be with the President's meeting with Foreign Minister Primakov. And then, following that meeting, we'll be able to tell you a little more about that session and I'll come back out and do a little more on the President's preparations for the summit later this week with President Yeltsin.
We had already, last week, given you a pretty good thumbnail overview of the summit meeting itself and obviously no change in that, but we'll try to account for some of the good discussions we've had so far with Foreign Minister Primakov. As you know, he's already met with Secretary Albright, Secretary Cohen, and we'll see the President later on.
Q Will that second performance by you be on camera?
MR. MCCURRY: If it absolutely positively needs to be.
MR. BLITZER: Yes.
MR. MCCURRY: And Wolf Blitzer would know. (Laughter.)
Q Speaking for the world -- (laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Speaking for CNN International. (Laughter.) Speaking for a grateful planet.
Q We'd also like to see Foreign Minister Primakov, too.
MR. MCCURRY: Good, you will probably see him as he leaves.
Q What time do you think that will be, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably around 3:30 p.m., 3:45 p.m.
Q Mike, has the White House had a chance to sort through The Wall Street Journal's story a little bit more and figure out who it was who kept letting Mr. Tamraz in after the NSC suggested that he should not be able to meet with the President anymore?
MR. MCCURRY: No, and no. (Laughter.)
Q No, it has not been sorted out?
MR. MCCURRY: Hasn't been sorted out. I think it's a fairly complicated story and there's a lot of information in it that will be of interest to a lot of people in Washington, not the least of which is the White House Legal Counsel, who will look more carefully at the issues raised by the article.
Q Can you tell us what's going on about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there are a lot of people named, a lot of things said, and a lot of people who may have recollections that all need to be tested fairly carefully before I'm going to attempt to say anything about it.
Q Have you figured out who in the CIA was passing over the documents?
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously not.
Q But are the bare bones of the Wall Street Journal story accurate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the bare bones, if by that you mean an NSC staffer apparently had a meeting in which she restated our policy related to Caspian Sea oil pipeline transit routes and the utility of diversity when it came to pipeline routes, and that the third-ranking official at the NSC informed the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee to, in the words of one account I saw, "knock it off" when it came to intervening on behalf of an individual, that appears to be true as far as we've been able to establish. But since there is so much information we would need to be able to establish to provide a definitive account of this event, I'll defer to whatever work our lawyers can do to get more information.
Q Was there a high-level meeting here, as the Journal said there was going to be, this morning to discuss this?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I don't know where the Journal got that. There was --
Q Was there a meeting on Tony Lake's confirmation here this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: There was not a meeting, no. I mean, people are interested in doing everything we can to help a guy who has got enormous integrity, whose staff in this matter apparently functioned exactly as a staff should function, and someone that the President needs if we're going to be able to tackle the very ambitious foreign policy agenda that we've got.
Q You mean, functioned as it should function by just not bothering him with this?
MR. MCCURRY: No, by functioning as it should have functioned by telling people to stay away from foreign policy issues or -- because that doesn't mix with politics. It appears to be the dominant attitude that prevailed.
Q The point, though, is that even after Nancy Soderberg said, knock it off, we don't want this guy coming over here, he still managed to get in here.
MR. MCCURRY: That's right, and I'm sure everyone, including me, would be interested in finding out how that happened.
Mr. Miklaszewski, what news from the back of the room?
Q What specifically were the NSC concerns about Mr. Tamraz?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in a position to say anything more than what I've already said on this.
Q Mike, also in the Journal story is the statement that Ms. Heslan got a CIA report she had not requested. Is that accurate?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to attempt to address details of that story until I have more information.
Q But also, Mike, it says that either Tony Lake --
MR. MCCURRY: Deborah, it says an awful lot of stuff. I've said all I'm going to say on it.
Q Well, let me try two more things.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, two more things.
Q That neither Sandy Berger nor Tony Lake were informed -- is that correct? And given that would mean two instances in which Tony Lake's staff didn't information him, the FBI thing and this, do you see it as a problem?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me draw some distinctions here. In the previous matter, we were talking about mid-level people who didn't brief superiors. In this matter we're talking about the number three person at the National Security Council matter, who had the authority by Tony delegated to handle and dispose of matters. So I wouldn't draw any comparisons to those two situations.
There is nothing that I have been told that would indicate that Mr. Lake or Mr. Berger were thoroughly familiar with this matter, but obviously we're going to have to go back and reconstruct this. And that's a painstaking process because there are a lot of people involved and a lot of people may have different memories. And when I can talk more authoritatively about it, I will, but I'm not going to attempt to do it here.
Q Mike, in addition to trying to figure out how he got in after this incident, could you just describe what are the other issues that are raised by this article that the White House Legal Counsel is trying to --
MR. MCCURRY: It's a long article, and I'm not going to try to dissect it.
Q What are you concerned about? I mean, I'm not asking you to stay what's true in the article, just what are the --
MR. MCCURRY: There is a lot in there. A lot of you have already asked some pretty germane questions, and I don't have answers, so you can imagine that there is an effort underway to try to get some answers.
Q Is there some time when you think that you might be able to come back to us and give some answers?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect there will be other authorities here in Washington that will want answers to those questions even before I am able to give them to you.
Q Are you suggesting then that there is something maybe illegal about what happened here, because we're not asking a legal question --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not suggesting that in the least. I'm suggesting that I don't have answers and I'm not going to wing it. That's what I'm suggesting.
Q And the Lake nomination is full-speed ahead?
MR. MCCURRY: We certainly would expect so, because he's got enormous capacity, enormous integrity, and enormous managerial ability. And I think some of that is reflected in the information in this article.
Q Mike, if the gist of the story, though, is that someone got into the White House that ought not to have been in the White House by national security standards, and your answer is, we don't know how that happened, is that satisfactory?
MR. MCCURRY: Unfortunately, by now that's not exactly news, is it? I mean, the President has acknowledged that. He said that was a principal shortcoming. He said publicly several times that he regrets that, and as you know, we've got new procedures in place now, don't we?
What else would you like to know about today?
Q American Airlines -- today is the day. Have you gotten any indication --
MR. MCCURRY: Today is not the day. That's my big news that I have for you. Let me tell you that the Chairman of the Presidential Emergency Board, Robert Harris, has advised the President that American Airlines and the Allied Pilots Association are engaged in intensive mediation efforts and that additional time prior to the board's submission of its report will increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. That means something, of course, that the President desires -- he's more than willing to grant that time, so in response, the President has extended until Wednesday March 19th the time for the Emergency Board to submit its report. We also understand from the parties that they have voluntarily agreed not to resort to any self-help under the provisions of Section 10 of the Railway Labor Act until the date of April 28th of 1997, which, if you think about when Congress may or may not be in session might be a relevant date.
Q So will they continue talking out at Orcas Island until that time Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been informed in a letter from both parties that they will -- they've requested this additional delay to permit them to serve the public interest by resolving their dispute in a peaceful manner and that they are engaged in intensive mediation efforts and that they do hope that this extension will increase the likelihood of a successful outcome, and so naturally the President wants to give the parties time to talk.
Q Does that mean they're close?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on where they are in their discussions.
Q Can you give us that letter from Harris?
Q Can you define that self-help measure you mentioned?
MS. GLYNN: Yes, it will be made available right after --
MR. MCCURRY: I think we can make that available, and I'll make the statement I just made available, too.
Q Can you define the self-help part of that?
MR. MCCURRY: Self-help under Section 10 of the Railway Labor Act is triggered after the initial 30-day cooling-off period and -- Mary Ellen, correct me if I'm wrong here -- after the initial 30-day period and after the submission of a report by an emergency board, they set an additional 30-day period in which either party is prohibited from initiating so-called "self-help," which would be either walking out or locking out. And the parties, having indicated they will refrain from any self-help under the act until April 28th, obviously are setting a timetable for themselves that might be very useful and amicable resolution of the dispute.
Q Don't they have to refrain under the act?
MR. MCCURRY: I think under the act they have to refrain, yes.
MS. GLYNN: And they've agreed to extend it --
MR. MCCURRY: The additional 30 days would expire 30 days after the submission of the initial report, which would have been April 17th -- I guess now April 19th. So they've given themselves an additional period beyond that.
Q Mike, could you give us an update -- therapy, crutches, wheelchair -- food, whatever?
MR. MCCURRY: I told a lot of you this morning -- not a lot to add from what we said earlier today that he's planning to do at least one and maybe two more sessions of therapy today. The doctors examined him earlier today and he was doing well. The President got dressed in a handsome blue suit and a bright green tie, and a shamrock pin and met with former Vice President Mondale and former Secretary Kassebaum-Baker. They had a good discussion of the campaign finance reform issue in the Residence. The President will probably confine most of his activity to the Residence and specifically the second floor.
The doctors are very satisfied with the progress he's making. He had a good session of fairly intensive physical therapy yesterday and will do more each day. He requires, according to the doctors, about an hour total of physical therapy every day, probably broken up into two sessions, and the President is looking forward to the intellectual challenge, if not the physical challenge of learning how to do that. He got a chuckle out of a letter that he's received that I would like to read to you.
"Dear Mr. President, should you need someone to fill in and run the country during your recovery, give me a call. From one who once fell off the stage and on to the front pages everywhere, best wishes for a speedy recovery and a successful summit with President Yeltsin." Signed, obviously, by former Senator Bob Dole.
Q Mike, is the President frustrated that he couldn't go to the Oval Office today?
MR. MCCURRY: He didn't really look frustrated to me, because he didn't really look frustrated to me because -- I mean, in fact, he looked positively tickled with himself for having done a lot of paperwork over the weekend, and he was enjoying himself being at home so much that some of us worry that he might get a little too comfortable over there.
Q Two things. Do you know what kind of brace he has on his leg?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. It's a wrap-around brace that looks like it makes good use of another invention, courtesy of the U.S. space program, velcro.
Q Does that wrap around the outside of the pants, or do the pants go over the brace? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He puts his pants on one leg at a time, over the brace.
Q With Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea traveling for two weeks, is Bruce Lindsey or anybody going to move into the second floor so that he's not --
MR. MCCURRY: He'll have a lot of company during that period. Erskine was talking to him earlier today. I think Bruce spent some time with him watching basketball yesterday and he'll have other visitors from time to time as well.
Q Is anybody going to, like, move in?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check. I think that some -- I think the medical staff is on hand over there and available. He'll have --
in addition to that, he'll have social guests that come by from time to time.
Q The hour a the day that he gives to therapy, is that otherwise lost time, or does it take all his concentration, or can he hear a briefing or read --
MR. MCCURRY: It is vigorous enough that it would be best not to brief under those circumstances. That would be my studied opinion. (Laughter.)
Q So he needs to find an extra hour a day for that then, basically?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. But there would be some things that he's not doing as a result of being somewhat less ambulatory, so he'll have plenty of time to do all the work that he needs to do and also carry out a therapy regime.
Q As a follow-up to the appointment of Mondale and Kassebaum-Baker this morning, there's a general perception that not much has been going on on campaign finance reform, either on the Hill or here. Would you like to disabuse me of tt?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been a great deal here.
Q What has been happening that we're not necessarily seeing?
MR. MCCURRY: We have continued -- in fact, I would point out that even after the session this morning, the Vice President took the occasion to have another working session with some of the advocates of reform that were there for that meeting. We had been meeting regularly with them and talking about ways that we can generate more public support for campaign finance reform, and surely the public awareness in education effort that these two former officials is going to be very important with respect to that.
We have been addressing this publicly, working with the Hill, trying to structure different events that draw attention to the effort to pass campaign finance reform. We've had sessions here at the White House with the leading proponents of reform, and we'll continue to look for ways like we did today to further the effort to pass badly need legislation.
Q Mike, related to that, Mondale was at the White House today -- did the issue of his successor to Ambassador to Japan come up in these discussions?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything that indicates there was a Japan angle on that story.
Q Mike, do you have any senators coming in today on the decertification of Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of.
Q Lott, Feinstein --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to check that out for you. We may have some of our folks going up there, apparently, but we continue to reach out to various members of the Senate and talk about it.
Q Can I have a follow-up on that one?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Since Congress has to either approve or not approve the President's decision by March 30 and they're going to recess on Friday, how does the White House see the chances now in the Senate of their legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been a lot of conversations underway about how members of Congress could express their concerns about this in a way that's suitable to the President. I'm just not going to speculate what they might do between now and Friday.
Q Mike, reaction to President Yeltsin's fairly tough language today, saying he does not want the United States to act like it feels it's in command of the world -- what do you make of that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's very rarely around here that we feel like we're in command of much of anything, let alone the world. But the President does have very strong views on the future of Europe, and the United States does exert enormous amount of leadership in this world. And our views, I think, have a great deal of influence on our allies and, more importantly, our allies have come together and made some decisions with respect to the future of Europe and the future of NATO. That's clear to the Russian Federation.
For some time, the Russian Federation has expressed publicly its concerns about the expansion and adaptation of NATO for the realities of the post-Cold War era. This will be a public debate that I suspect will continue for some time. But the importance is that we -- the importance we attach to the dialogue we currently have is whether or not the Russian Federation wants to engage with us in defining a new relationship between NATO and Russia. And that, I assure you, is going on and going on in some substantive detail, and I suspect will be a likely subject of dialogue between the two Presidents. There is no question that there are strong feelings on both sides.
Q Did it just get -- did the language sound stronger to you than what he said before?
MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to put it in the context of a range of statements that have been made publicly. They have all expressed a great deal of concern, anxiety, and opposition to the expansion of NATO. That has been a hallmark of the Russian presentation on this subject. It reflects, obviously, the history of that Cold War institution. And our assurances have to be compelling that the raison d'etre of NATO during the Cold War is much different and modified and adapted as you think of the realities of a post-Cold War era in which we are no longer in superpower adversarial relations with a country that is a totalitarian communist country. It's a different relationship.
Q Are you saying then that basically you have heard that -- he's been that strong before on that side of the pendulum?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, there is no question that there have been strong, very strong statements that have come from the Russian Federation on the subject of NATO expansion. There have also been, simultaneously, negotiations and diplomacy aimed at creating a new relationship between NATO and the Russian Federation.
Q Mike, is making the proposed NATO-Russia charter legally binding on or off the table, as far as the U.S. --
MR. MCCURRY: We've addressed ourselves to that in the past. We've said that we want to structure a relationship with them that is -- what's the correct wording we used, Dr. Johnson?
MR. JOHNSON: Politically binding.
MR. MCCURRY: A politically binding relationship is what we seek and there's no change in our views on that.
Q But that wasn't my question. My question was not what your negotiating point is. My question is, particularly since President Yeltsin is putting this as his top priority, if he's going to engage NATO he wants on the same legal level as changing the NATO treaty to admit new members, i.e., that that charter then would have to be ratified by all members of NATO by all the legislators. And my question is, is that something that's totally off the table, or is that still under discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: He may very well have many priorities for the coming summit. I'm not going to try to address which ones might be his priority. I've told you what our priorities are and we'll stick to our priorities.
Q Mike, on another subject --
Q Wait. Can we get --
Q Go ahead.
Q I'm still not sure that I understand the answer --
MR. MCCURRY: The more we do now, the less likely it is I will do some stuff later. (Laughter.)
Q I'm not sure I understood your answer to John's question.
MR. MCCURRY: It was oblique.
Q I was trying to figure out if the White House was --
Q I understood it.
Q I guess I'm just not as subtle as you are. (Laughter.) Are we happy, are we disappointed in what he said? Are we --
MR. MCCURRY: We understand the context in which public statements are made. We understand the strong feelings that President Yeltsin and the Russian Federation have on this subject. But we also want to work quietly to work through differences that exist on questions related to the future of Europe. And we believe we can do that. We've seen nothing communicated to us either publicly or privately that would indicate an incapacity on the part of these two leaders and these two governments to bridge whatever differences exist on the question of the future of Europe and NATO's role in the architecture of European security.
Q When you say that you understand the context, does that mean you think it's principally for domestic political consumption?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I chose my words real carefully.
Q Why are you being so careful about that? In the past I think you have said that sharp statements --
MR. MCCURRY: Because I was trained well at the State Department to be diplomatic.
Okay. Let's move on to something else.
Q You have said that, Mike.
Q Back to the subject of greatest interest to my editors.
MR. MCCURRY: Is that to indicate your own personal sense that --
Q No, I'm distancing myself from my question. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: All right.
Q Yesterday there was a suggestion the President would have to change his diet because now he would be more sedentary. And I wonder if there were any changes in his diet today, if that's been underway already?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he eats pretty frugally, anyhow. And there's a great myth out there about his dietary habits. He enjoys a good meal, but he's pretty careful about it from time to time. And that's the reality, and people who travel with him know that.
Q Are there changes -- did he eat differently today because --
MR. MCCURRY: The doctors said yesterday they will make some adjustments in his diet and they will be ones that will be designed to help a guy recovering from surgery who's not going to be as active and as physically engaged as he otherwise would be.
Q There's one doctor who is quoted in USA Today as saying that --
MR. MCCURRY: You must have had him on CNN by now. (Laughter.)
Q Not yet, but we're trying to get this guy. There's one guy who says that maybe even after six months or ninth months the President should think about quitting jogging altogether so that he doesn't re-injure this injury.
MR. MCCURRY: And do, like, more aerobic kind of work-outs? I'm sure that in six months we can give you an answer to the question and whether he took the advice.
Q On another subject, I have a question about the INS controversy. Apparently, there's a group of INS officers in the field who say that last year the naturalization process was changed and streamlined for political purposes in order to register more Democrats. Can you respond to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any new statements on this, but I do know that Commissioner Doris Meissner, at great, great, great length, addressed all these subjects during her recent hearing on the Hill.
Q Mike, can I go back --
Q And you didn't -- just to get clear, so you're denying that there was any political --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying I'm not aware of this latest statement. I'm saying that Doris Meissner's testimony is authoritative.
Q -- the earlier question about the brace. Are his pants split?
MR. MCCURRY: No, as a matter of fact.
Q And won't changes have to be made for -- or are being made outside of looking at Air Force One for his trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Customary changes.
Q There is a lot of criticism of both parties about the --
MR. MCCURRY: I guess -- wait a minute, you can't say -- that doesn't make any sense. You can't have any customary changes, because it's not exactly a typical situation.
Q Acustomary changes.
Q What kind of changes?
MR. MCCURRY: They'll do whatever they need to do so a guy can get around on crutches and if he needs to use a wheelchair he can use a wheelchair. I know there is endless fascination here with this detail, but let's try to keep things in some perspective.
Q Well, unfortunately, Susan's editors aren't the only ones interested in this. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, look, I think it's -- to the degree that we have talked about it, it's useful. The President of the United States is in a situation that millions of Americans are in, who are less ambulatory than they would like and are temporarily challenged by the condition he finds himself in. I think it's useful for the country to understand how we adapt to things around here, and we will, and they'll make some changes around here. But we ought to be a society that makes these adaptations for anyone who faces these conditions day in and day out.
Q But that's not what happens, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not what happens, and it should happen. That's why there are laws on the book to try to help make it happen.
Q But that's why we want to know what kinds of changes are being made for one person.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, go back through -- some of you weren't here over the weekend. We briefed at such great length and told you how we are taping down rugs and moving furniture around and making sure the President has some additional workout equipment for aerobic exercising. If you go back through our transcripts from the weekend, you'll find a lot of good material there.
Q A couple of follow-ups based on those transcripts. First of all, how much longer do you think he'll be mostly getting around in a wheelchair? How soon will he make the transition to crutches?
MR. MCCURRY: The doctors indicated yesterday, I believe, that they want to try to get him up on crutches, moving around, later this week.
Q So will he be able to move around in Helsinki minus the wheelchair?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to project right now, Peter. He'll probably still need the use of the wheelchair from time to time. It might be more convenient in some cases when he's moving around different settings to have that available to him. But the doctors were real happy with the way his knee flexed today and the progress he's making, and they'll see how it goes.
Q There was also a reference yesterday in your briefing to having a medical attendant present with him 24 hours a day. Was that just for the transition yesterday, or is that going to continue for a little while?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got access to his Medical Unit all the time. They were talking yesterday about the addition of a physical therapist to the Medical Unit staff.
Q -- medical attendant 24 hours a day.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he does have that while he's in the convalescence period here.
Q Mike, on campaign finance, there is a lot of criticism in both parties about the weakness of the FEC. The Center for Responsive Politics sent the President a letter on Friday saying that by next month he would have the opportunity to put four people on the FEC and urged him to choose some independent, fairly vigorous enforcers. Does the President have any intention to do that to fill these positions and is he looking at maybe a sort of different complexion?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got several interests there. He does, of course, intend to fill those vacancies with people who are highly qualified, highly energetic, and in a position to effectively enforce the law. But there is another issue the President has also publicly addressed, and that's the strength and effectiveness of the Federal Election Commission itself. He believes they need the resources to effectively enforce the law, which they clearly may not have now. And secondly, he believes we need to have new laws on the book that address some of the shortcomings we've seen in our system of campaign finance.
So I'd say those issues more directly occupy the President's attention and concern right now. Budgetary questions, I think, are taking some precedence over the personnel issues. But in time, the President will of course want to have very good, very highly qualified appointments for the vacancies.
Q How are you responding, the White House, to concerns about the delay in the notification of the pool Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had -- I received earlier today a resolution from the White House Correspondents Association, which I had already, in fact, acted upon and I had a good opportunity to meet with your president to say that we certainly understand the concerns addressed in that resolution. I had already initiated with the Chief of Staff some discussions about notification process and how that works. In fact, we are, across the board, looking at what we do in the middle of the night when we've got an emergency need that arises and we need to get a hold of a lot of different people in a lot of places simultaneously.
Mary Ellen, at her own initiative, has come forward with some ideas and recommendations that I'm going to forward off to the Chief of Staff so we can put in place something that makes it clear that our policy is instant notification so that people can be where they need to be.
I'm delighted and appreciate the fact that in your pool report you gave a real tribute to Mary Ellen and Kris Engskov for doing a very good job under difficult circumstances Friday night. I appreciate that vote of confidence in them.
Q Concerning the American Airlines issue, has the President decided, should this whole PEB process fail, whether he will urge Congress to --
MR. MCCURRY: You can gather from what I said earlier that we are at the moment hopeful that the situation might be otherwise, so I don't want to speculate on the pessimistic if we don't need to.
Q Mike, any comment on the Paula Jones interview, and specifically the claim that the White House offered a settlement?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Will the President be talking with Alexis Herman before her confirmation hearing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Will the President be talking to her? I suspect he may very well because he wants to, of course, wish her well. He's confident that she'll do a great job in her hearings. This is the moment that she has waited for, the White House has waited for, that she can address any concerns that remain among senators. We're confident she'll make a very impressive appearance before the committee and be well on her way to confirmation when the hearing is over.
Q Mike, I asked you this morning, you said you'd get a list of the world leaders who sent their best wishes.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Just to recap a few messages that we have received at the White House -- there have been lots of get-well cards and lots of private messages from friends of the President. But we've also heard from Chancellor Kohl, from Prime Minister Netanyahu, from President Kim of the Republic of Korea, from President Yeltsin, from the President of El Salvador, and also a nice phone message from President Mubarak of Egypt, among others. No doubt we probably have gotten through diplomatic channels from other -- expressions of best wishes, too, although I think most foreign governments are treating this with some sense of perspective.
Q Unlike us. (Laughter.)
Q Unlike our editors, you mean.
Q Yeah, it's not us.
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, we have, I'm sure, have extended best wishes for quick recovery to President Ezer Weizman of Israel who had a hip injury at about the same time the President had his knee injury. The world has continued to rotate around its access --shockingly enough.
Q Mike, while you're in that region -- (laughter.)
Q The Middle East.
MR. MCCURRY: Where? The hips? The knees? (Laughter.)
Q This is a below the belt question. (Laughter.)
Q Any reaction to King Hussein visiting Israel and making that trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that was an extraordinary moment. I hope some of you got to focus on the things that really matter in this world this weekend. But his trip to Israel, his meetings with the families that were sitting shiva after the tragedy that occurred in the Island of Peace was a remarkable moment in the history of dialogue between Israel and her Arab partners. And the King's act was gracious and humanitarian and in the best interests of peace, which is the way the King typically conducts himself. We hope that that will be part of the healing process in the aftermath of this tragedy and will lend some kind of inspiration to all of those who must continue the dialogue if we are to achieve the kind of deepening of the peace process that will confidence to Arab and Jew alike in the region.
Q On the proposal this morning, how is it going to be different than the restructuring commission that's already been underway for three months?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't have -- my understanding is that Deputy Secretary Summers gave a real good talk on this today and that they have briefed extensively at Treasury. I'm not prepared now to go into the detail of this other than to say that this is -- the President's confident that this is a way to make sure that the IRS continues to keep its focus on customer service, because that's what it ought to be about first and foremost. And the Department itself, as a result of some of these measures, will be in a better position to effectively oversee the management of the service itself. But Treasury is a in better position to get into the details for you.
Q Question on -- President Yeltsin has made -- long awaited, and I wonder if it makes any difference to you --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our view of that is similar to questions we are often asked by the President himself. Our engagement and partnership with the Russian Federation is not dependent on individuals. It is dependent on the commitment to democracy and to reform that has been a hallmark of the Yeltsin government. We assume that the new ministers so chosen by the President constitutionally will be people committed to democratization, to economic liberalization to expansion of the type of opportunity for the Russian people, they will show them the fruits and benefits of market economics and democracy.
We look forward to working with those new ministers. Those who have been named publicly so far are people who have a track record with respect to reform, a track record that we respect, but as in every case we engage as we engage with the government with those who are interested in pursuing the policies that are on our agenda, but on their agenda, and that we have an opportunity to address in the spirit of cooperation and partnership that is a hallmark now of this relationship.
Q Another campaign finance reform question. Would the White House like to see Democrats in the Senate basically attach McCain-Feingold to everything? I mean, in other words, force votes on it as a regular --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, that's getting in the weeds of what legislative tactics would be. We want to see McCain-Feingold pass. We appreciate the efforts of those who are trying to get it passed. We understand that people will try different ways to try to force the issue, but we don't want to suggest to senators who they ought to run their own legislative calendars; we just -- everything we can to lend them public support as an advocate on behalf of a piece of legislation to help improve our system of politics.
Q Can I just follow up on that? Is it the President's view that the priority as far as getting McCain-Feingold passed right now is building up a big public head of steam, public support for it, or is it primarily a matter of logic and behind-the-scenes persuasion?
MR. MCCURRY: It needs two things. One, we know this is not assuming a question on the agenda of many Americans. If you ask them what are your major concerns in life -- campaign reform -- our system of campaign finance doesn't rank very high. So through public education, through raising the awareness of the need for this legislation, we do hope that we can get some grass-roots support for changing our system of campaign finance.
At the same time, there will also be an effort, and we think there will be other sources of pressure that will intensify the effort in Congress to bring about change. Well, I think all of you -- the coverage of this is helpful in that respect, because after we flagellate for so long, there has to be something at the end of the days that says what are we going to do about it. And I think -- it's clear that the answer is some type of effort to reform our campaign finance laws and the best vehicle available and the one that has engendered the most support so far is McCain-Feingold in the Senate and Shays-Meehan in the House.
Q On the fact-finding mission on The Wall Street Journal report, was that initiated by the President, by the Counsel's Office, or can you say?
MR. MCCURRY: My impression is the Counsel's Office started getting deeply into these issues over the weekend. But I don't know the President was aware of the story until today.
Q Mike, did you confirm that neither Tony nor Sandy Berger was informed of the financial side of it?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Yes, they were not? No, they weren't?
MR. JOHNSON: They were not.
MR. MCCURRY: They were not informed. Which piece of this are you specifically asking, just so I'm making sure.
Q Fowler contact.
MR. MCCURRY: Of any alleged contact between Fowler and the NSC?
Q Alleged? Was there any doubt?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm just using that because we're still at the point where we're testing people's memories and recollections.
Q Of the alleged contact between Fowler and the NSC of the warning to Fowler and of the --
MR. MCCURRY: -- given back by Ms. Soderberg. Right, to my knowledge, these matters were not -- were drawn to the attention of Mr. Lake and Mr. Berger.
Q Back on campaign finance reform. What can these two people do, what does the White House anticipate as sort of a broad movement to try to get people fired up about campaign finance reform?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, if it's maybe cynicism -- many of the Americans believe that this is just the way it works, and there's no sense in changing it hopefully saying that, no, that's not true. You can take back the system, and you don't necessarily have to be that -- the way our politics works. If it's just lack of interest because that's your world back there in Washington and that's not what we worry about as we try to earn a living and put bread on the table and take care of our families needs, we'll say, well look, all the effort to do that -- all the effort to improve your lives will be better if we have people who are first and foremost serving the public interest rather than other interests.
So trying to tie some way or other the need for reform to what really matters to the American family is clearly what has to happen, in think, in order to get public support for this. At the same time, responsible lawmakers and responsible elected officials can nonetheless still be in favor of reforming the system irrespective of what the public level of support is.
Q So what's the strategy for doing that? Talk show? Newspaper ads?
MR. MCCURRY: All of the above. I think Senator Kassebaum-Baker and Ambassador-Vice President Mondale had good sessions afterwards with people and talked exactly about that, what would be most useful. Should we kind of get out on the road? I mean, a lot -- they have to do this as private citizens, of course, because they won't do it with official support from the White House. But they will be in a position because they are highly articulate, because they've seen what corrosive effects the system can have on our politics. They will be in a position to go speak to it, to write, to talk, to go on Inside Politics with Wolf Blitzer -- to do all kinds of things.
Q But no governmental support?
Q Every single day?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not -- this would be a public awareness education effort launched by these two folks as a private undertaking, a project that they are undertaking on their own. Obviously, we tried to help successfully launch them by having them here at the White House today.
Q Just a logistical question. Can we expect to see him tomorrow at any events or Wednesday before he leaves?
MR. MCCURRY: We, so far, have got nothing -- no public events on his calendar, the Vice President picking up most of his schedule. I mean, we're giving him time to adjust to his new circumstances in the White House and also to do some of the extensive briefing he needs to do. He's going to have some briefing sessions over the coming days. He's got a lot of material to read and to look through as he prepares for his meeting with President Yeltsin. I think that's likely what he'll be doing.
Q When are the briefings tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We are planning on trying to have Secretary Albright and Sandy Berger here, I hope, sort of late morningish tomorrow.
Q Late morning-ish?
MR. MCCURRY: Late morning-ish.
Q Can I get a picture of the President with Primakov today? Will we get a still photo?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's our intent, yes. That is our intent, correct?
Q How long did that meeting go between the President and --
Q What time do you think we'll get it?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably right now.
One last one in the back.
Q This is a very short summit. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin could presumably reschedule if they had to. Given the President's physical limitations, why is he insisting on going forward at this time with the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: If you go back and look, I answered that question yesterday when I was here. There is a sequence of meetings and a schedule of things that work through, up to the Madrid summit in Spain. And to kind of keep on that track and keep the momentum building towards Madrid, the President felt it was very important to go ahead and do this. There is nothing about his leg that's going to prevent him from being very vigorous, very candid, and pressing the case very hard with President Yeltsin, which he intends to do.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
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