THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:49 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Bob.
Let me add on that last point, too, the President today spent about -- well, first of all, he spent about an hour-and-a-half in the Oval Office today, which is the first time since his knee surgery that he's been back in the office. He had planned to have the day off today, but he wanted to come in and catch up on his paperwork. So he motored over from the Residence on his crutches, after having a little physical therapy, and did some paperwork here.
His plan, to pick up on Bob's point, is to call the bipartisan leadership of Congress later today and try to connect with them over the course of today and probably tomorrow -- since Congress is now in recess -- to talk to them personally about some of the results of the summit. And I think the specificity that you just heard on some of the questions related to arms control issues, the ABM and TMD issues in particular, will be something the President will address as he talks to the leadership.
Q Has he reached anyone yet, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: He planned to go and start making calls this afternoon, so he probably hasn't reached anyone yet.
Q You were going to talk today about the future travel?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything further yet for you, Helen. They're still working on questions related to our travels later this spring and how he can best adjust travel to fit -- you know, how his recuperation is going from the surgery. And as soon as we've got it pinned down, we'll make a formal announcement, although I think you've seen speculation on how we might adjust some aspects of the trip. And that all looks pretty much on the money.
Q And where does the budget stand now in terms of this byplay on tax cuts versus the balanced budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it probably stands in better shape of being balanced, because both sides are clearly making efforts to reach out, to talk about how we can bridge differences. The President feels very strongly that his balanced budget proposal is a good one. But we recognize in dealing with the Republican Congress that we have to have some measure of flexibility as we address issues. And that's something we're doing now.
Q Is the President prepared to defer --
MR. MCCURRY: David just gave me a note. I didn't realize -- the President was over in the Oval for 10 minutes on Sunday, so this is his first extended working session in the Oval Office; I didn't know he had been there on Sunday.
Q Is the President prepared to defer his tax cut proposal in order to achieve a balanced budget resolution with the Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's interested in having good-faith discussions with members of Congress about how to balance the budget. We've got a good, credible, smart balanced budget proposal on the table that includes tax relief. The President is very committed to tax relief that advances some of the objectives we've talked about, specifically targeted credits for child care and for investments in education. But this will be a process in which we've got to work with the Republican Congress. There have been some suggestions from Congress that we may need to set aside the question of tax relief now in order to get an agreement on a balanced budget. The President has indicated that he has some flexibility and would be willing to discuss with members of Congress how to best achieve everyone's goal, which we believe is a balanced budget.
Q Mike, can we get back to the trip a little bit? Your schedule, does that mean that there definitely won't be a trip in April?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that most of the speculation has been a trip to Latin America beginning in May, so it's not likely at this point that he would travel in April, but we haven't pinned down the exact dates, and we're actively consulting with governments in the region to get a formal announcement of an itinerary together.
Q Is the Hague also under review?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything indicating that.
Q How does he feel?
MR. MCCURRY: He feels good. He just was in -- had physical therapy this morning, decided that while he was out running around on his crutches he would stop into the office here, and he was headed back over to the Residence and planned to do some more paperwork there and enjoyed watching basketball this weekend. Would not predict for me who of the Final Four will emerge victorious, making a good case for each of the four, and wouldn't want -- didn't want to call the Academy Awards tonight, either.
Q Mike, further on the Latin America trip, the speculation was that Mexico would be folded into the wider trip. Are you suggesting -- do you mean to suggest the whole thing might be slid some?
MR. MCCURRY: I meant to suggest as soon as we have a trip schedule, I won't need to speculate and you can know for sure, and we'll try to get that done sooner rather than later.
Q Mike, the House passed its committee budgets on Friday, and by my count a dozen of them are looking at various aspects involving the White House -- from fundraising to --
MR. MCCURRY: Only a dozen? That sounds like the discounted rate.
Q I wonder if you have any reaction to that. I wonder if you feel that --
MR. MCCURRY: They have to organize themselves to do their business and how the House budgets for its committee work was the House's business.
Q Mike, did Alison's story Sunday jar the President's memory at all on whether or not he made phone calls, where he made the phone calls from, and what he might have said?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to him on that matter, but I understand Mr. Davis addressed that over the weekend, and I don't have anything to add to what he said.
Q Well, wait a second. He didn't address it. He said --
MR. MCCURRY: He repeated what the President had said previously on that, and that's my understanding.
Q We've been now waiting for two or three weeks to find out if he did or if he didn't. What's the delay?
MR. MCCURRY: The President said that he doesn't recall whether he did and I think that's where the matter stands.
Q Well, has anyone asked him again since this memo came out?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe -- I don't know whether a member of the Counsel's staff has or not.
Q Mike, about three weeks ago you said you were going to try and get us a definite answer on the perks and whether those perks were given to people -- Air Force One, et cetera -- what's the prognosis for getting an answer on that?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of requests that we've gotten and differing requests for a variety of news organizations, and I've argued that we ought to try to go through and provide answers to those that have been identified by a majority of news organizations as high-priority matters, and I think they are working to get that done. But it's not doable today.
Q Now that the FBI is apparently investigating Mr. Burton, does the President have any sense of whether he thinks it's appropriate for Mr. Burton to continue running an investigation --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him express an opinion on that. He just believes that inquiries in this matter ought to be fair and balanced and ought to be aimed at producing an accurate record of activities so that Americans can judge whether or not campaign finance reform is a warranted objective; clearly, the President has a strong opinion that it is.
Q Does he feel that Mr. Burton will do an objective job?
MR. MCCURRY: He just believes that the House will ensure -- and hopes that the House ensures that the procedure is balanced and fair. He didn't render an opinion on Mr. Burton.
Q Mike, the French Foreign Minister says that there is a specific U.S.-Franco push to reach a cease-fire in Zaire. Are you aware of a particular initiatives?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any specific effort to work with France as against the community of countries working together to address the situation. There is, within the United Nations and under the auspices of the U.N. Special Envoy, an effort to encourage a cease-fire between the rebel factions and the government of President Mobutu. We are supportive of that. We believe there should be a cease-fire, and believe that the rebel faction led by Mr. Kabila ought to be in contact with President Mobutu to arrange a necessary cease-fire.
We are furthering that through a variety of conversations, including with the French government, including with other Central African nations. We've also dealt directly on this subject with the government of South Africa, and we believe all those who have interests in a peaceful outcome to the fighting in Zaire can work together under the various auspices of the international community to encourage the parties to reconcile.
Q Mike, in a Times story last Thursday, David Kendall was quoted as saying "no comment" to the question of whether the President or Mrs. Clinton knew about the Lippo payments to Hubbell in advance of news reports. Now, the President in the past has asserted that he did not know until he saw news reports. One, is that still the President's position? Two, is that also Mrs. Clinton's position?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that's an accurate quotation from Mr. Kendall. I'd have to go back and look at it.
Q It is.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has addressed that. I'm not aware of any change in what the President has said on that previously.
Q How about -- wait, Mike, how about Mrs. Clinton? Can you take that question?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to Mrs. Clinton about it. But the President has answered on his behalf -- I think has -- I thought answered on her behalf as well. Mr. Kendall has --
Q Well, his remark was "we."
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Kendall has very clearly indicated what he has to indicate on their respective knowledge.
Q Mike, if I could ask one other follow-up question. That same story also asserted that in addition to Bruce Lindsey, two other White House aides -- unnamed -- also knew about the payments from Lippo at the time -- more or less contemporaneously. Do you know whether that is correct? And do you know who those aides are?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether that is correct.
Q Mike, the White House Counsel's Office is telling us that there are no plans at present to release the second batch of Ickes' documents. You have been talking about full disclosure. Is it moving in that direction?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we do -- we've put out a substantial body of information already. Now, the situation we're in right now is -- some concern within the Counsel's Office about releasing documents that have actually been in the possession of others and have been produced by others. Some of the information that Mr. Ickes has provided has become public through whatever means. That's not all that was in Mr. Ickes' possession because he had a number of documents that were here at the White House that the Counsel's Office is still sifting through in any event.
I rather think that it's -- what we're trying to do is to address those questions that have been highlighted for us by news organizations as being of the most urgent priority. And most news organizations in this room have submitted multiple lists of questions that they would like to have addressed. It seems to me, it's more useful for us in answering your questions to work on those things that you've identified for us as being priority. And I think that's what the Counsel's Office is trying to do.
There will be, in the coming weeks, a voluminous release of material to all of these committees. Some of it is consequential, some of it is routine working documents. It will be up to the committee and up to you to decide what's what. But we'll just have to address at a later date the question of how we make this material available publicly, and whether the committee makes it available publicly when they have their hearings. There's some suggestion we're getting from the Hill that they would prefer to make some of this information available at the time they conduct their hearings. I sort of think a more useful exercise is to deal with the questions that you've identified for us to see if we can work on them first.
Q Mike, is this a change in policy --
Q Mike, are you saying you're not putting anything out today?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q -- because Saturday, Mr. Davis said that the White House had planned to release these documents but had chosen to do so after the summit. So have you since then -- because it's coming out now decided --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just think -- I think that it's clearly coming out piecemeal. And there have been news accounts on some of it piecemeal. And we don't want to contribute to piecemeal provision of information. We want to see if we can't figure out some way of providing answers to questions that you all have. And I think it's better to deal with what the questions are and not look at static questions about release of documents. In this case, they're third-party documents. These are not documents that the White House produced. They are documents that Mr. Ickes produced.
The Democratic National Committee has negotiated a confidentiality agreement with Mr. Burton's committee with respect to some of Mr. Ickes documents, so we would have to be in a position of putting out some of to documents but not other documents because the DNC wants some of them held confidential. I'm not sure that's a useful way to proceed at this point.
We have been putting out voluminous material on this matter. The stories day after day after day that you all are writing are based in most part on information that we voluntarily provided. And we'll continue to do that. But I think a better way for us is to ask you what the priorities are that you have in terms of questions you need to have answered and work at it that way.
Q So Mike, you're saying you're not going to put anything out today?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying -- we'll be doing --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll be doing voluminous additional releases. We're not doing anything today that I'm aware of --
Q Why aren't you?
MR. MCCURRY: -- probably won't do anything this week.
Q Why don't you put it all out to everyone when you put it out?
MR. MCCURRY: Did we miss UPI when we put it out?
Q To everyone. I mean, everyone is interested.
MR. MCCURRY: We will think of how to do that. We're probably talking about literally hundreds of thousands of pages worth of documents times hundreds of news organizations, and we'll have to think about a smart way to do that. There may not be an easy way of doing that, but we'll try our best.
Q Mike, could you take the question of asking Bruce Lindsey whether he is aware of whether anybody else knew about the Lippo payments at the time? And could you also --
MR. MCCURRY: Ask Bruce whether he is aware if anyone else knew of --
Q What I'm trying to find is some way --
MR. MCCURRY: -- Mr. Hubbell's retention by Lippo?
Q That's correct.
MR. MCCURRY: I just want to make sure I got the question. I'll see if he's got anything to say on that.
Q And could you also take the question: Could we again check with the President whether he can give any further information on whether he made fund-raising calls?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I'll check and see if there is anything to add to that.
Q Dick Morris says that the Justice Department, tobacco industry, the White House, members of Congress are nearing agreement -- an arrangement that could result in tobacco companies setting up funds to cover Medicaid costs of cancer victims to deal with -- to pay survivors, and that part of that deal could be the tobacco industry basically leaving the U.S. for the most part. Is the White House involved in this? Do you know anything about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe, if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Morris on Fox over the weekend said he thought that might happen, but he didn't know for a fact whether that would happen. And since he was speculating, I don't know that I want to add to the speculation.
Q That's a legitimate question, though. I mean -- go beyond speculation, if it's something going on in the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: Are there conversations underway? I mean, you've seen a fairly dramatic development last week with respect to one of the tobacco companies, and what the implications of that are for the marketing of tobacco, what the effect will be of the President's regulations with respect to curbs on young people smoking and advertising, and access related to young people smoking. It's going to have some kind of market impact. I mean, I'm not -- I have no way of speculating what that will be, but there will be plenty of market analysts who will probably do that.
There have been all kinds of reports in recent weeks about discussions underway, partly as a result of the litigation -- I think about two dozen states that have been in court on this issue -- what the impact will be on the industry. We have monitored from time to time some of those discussions. Mr. Lindsey has been doing that. And, you know, our interest has been clear throughout this, which is the health policy objectives the President articulated when he promulgated the regulations.
Now we're interested in seeing that we can prevent kids from smoking and do that in the most effective public policy way. We've got, we believe, the right policy as contained in those regulations, but at some point others in the industry or who are working with the advocates or working with those who are litigating the matter on behalf of states might come forward with other ideas. We'll certainly entertain those ideas if they do. But our objectives will be very clear and they're the ones the President articulated in August of 1995.
Q When he articulated the objectives, if I could follow up, please -- when the President articulated the objective he said he'd prefer to sign legislation. Is that still his belief, and would the President, as part of that legislation, be willing to shield tobacco companies from lawsuits?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that there is any pending legislation that would accomplish those objectives, but maybe I haven't followed this carefully -- I don't think there is any.
Q I'm asking if the legislation the President said he would prefer to sign, rather than to accomplish this by --
MR. MCCURRY: Wendell, there's no legislation pending at the moment that would accomplish that.
Q Mike, on this notion of --
MR. MCCURRY: It's not legislation that's being suggested by any of the people working in the industry. They're talking about other kinds of agreements, not legislative solutions.
Q You say that there are conversations underway between the White House and these parties?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we have not been a party to any negotiations. There have been reported variously that various parties are in contact with each other and I'll leave it to them to describe that. We monitor where this issue is and whether there are any prospects of achieving the President's health care objectives. As you can see, we are proceeding with the promulgation of the final rules with respect to the President's proposed regulations and intend to do so.
Q Mike, could I add one more question to Deborah's list? Does the President -- when his lawyer, Mr. Kendall, made the statement that he would not respond to the question as to whether the President knew about these payments to Mr. Hubbell, was he speaking for the President when he said that? And does that satisfy the President that he -- did he want him to say that?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Kendall is a private attorney representing the President and the First Lady in their private capacity as citizens. You should really direct that question to him. I can't take a question and then get an answer from someone who -- you know, I can't get an answer from.
Q Was Mr. Kendall speaking for --
MR. MCCURRY: What's the question you want the President to answer? Maybe that's the way to go with this.
Q Did he know about any of the payments going to Mr. Hubbell?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, I'll see if the President's got anything to say --
Q Where does the Middle East peace process stand now?
MR. MCCURRY: It's as it always is -- fragile, complicated, in need of a great deal of hard work by all the parties and by those who assist the parties in trying to move the process forward.
Q Mike, on the Middle East, did the President, when he met with Mr. Arafat earlier this month, tell him that he was not sufficiently -- doing enough to control Hamas?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again -- was not --
Q Did he tell him that he, Mr. Arafat, was no longer doing enough to control Hamas?
MR. MCCURRY: The President made it clear that we have to do everything we can -- all parties have to do everything they can, to thwart terrorists and those who aid and abet terrorists. And he made that point, as we told you at the time. He has made that point repeatedly to all so that we unite together in a 100 percent effort to thwart terrorists.
Q But does he make a more specific mention of --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he talked specifically about those things the Palestinian Authority can do to curb and thwart terrorism.
Q Is the U.S. satisfied with the way that Arafat has dealt with Hamas?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States has said that everyone has to work even harder to prevent violence and terrorism. We've had ample reasons to believe that's true, and we continue to encourage parties to do what they can do to bring their offices to bear on the fight against terror in the region.
Q If the Palestinian Authority had to resort to measures that perhaps wouldn't satisfy U.S. standards of human rights in order to keep the situation under control, would we refrain from criticizing them over that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that, as we always would, we would judge that in light of all of the compelling interests that exist. Our human rights concerns are well known. Our belief in the rule of law and the value of the application of law is well known. But we also understand that we are in a desperate fight now to thwart those who are enemies of the peace that can improve the lives of citizens of any region which has experienced that kind of violence.
Q Does the U.S. think that Israel violated the Oslo Agreements by going ahead with settlements in Jerusalem?
MR. MCCURRY: We talked about Har Homa --
Q Well, you also vetoed it twice -- any condemnation. So where do you really stand?
MR. MCCURRY: We've made that clear. And the President addressed himself to that question on Friday.
Q Mike, I want to get it clear. Are you disappointed with Arafat's performance lately?
MR. MCCURRY: I said that we've encouraged Mr. Arafat and encouraged everyone in the region to do everything they can to prevent violence and terrorism -- to extend the extra effort necessary to produce results.
Q Does the administration believe Arafat gave a sort of green light to Hamas?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not into green lights and questions of that nature. What I'm specifically saying is that we need to make sure that they are -- that everyone expends every effort necessary to see that terror is stopped and thwarted. We can't be 100 percent effective, no doubt, in fighting terrorism, but you can expend 100 percent effort. That's what we are calling for.
Q But would that mean summary arrests and torture and other things that the Authority has been accused of?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not -- we don't condone extra-constitutional means to achieve those objectives. But we understand we're dealing with dangerous people, and, as always, you have to expend an extra effort when it comes to law enforcement when you're dealing with desperately dangerous people.
Q In the case of Har Homa, I think the administration made it clear that it considers further development in and around Jerusalem something to be left to final status talks under Oslo. Does the administration also view the total avoidance of violence by the Palestinians as being part of the Oslo obligations?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the Oslo Declaration is pretty clear and the statements to the parties as to their interpretation of Oslo is pretty clear, and the commitments the Palestinian Authority has made towards the renunciation of terror have been clear.
Q Mike, on Friday, Senator Akaka made some comments on the floor of the Senate saying that all the talk about Asian donors and Asian campaign finance contributions has sort of created a disparaging atmosphere around Asians and Asian-Americans. Does the President concur with that view?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has said something similar to that several months ago -- at this point now -- the concern being raised that a lot of people are being unfairly disparaged. And I refer you back to what he's already said publicly.
Q He went on to allege that there were two Asian-Americans under consideration for Cabinet posts and their names were removed as a direct result of that kind of climate --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what he's referring to.
Yes, Deborah, did you have one?
Q No. I'll pass.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:12 P.M. EST