THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESS SECRETARY MIKE MCCURRY, ACTING DIRECTOR OF PBGC JOHN SEAL, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT ELLEN SEIDMAN, AND ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR OLENA BERG
The Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, who knows what this is?
Q How many guesses do we get?
MR. MCCURRY: This is symbolically retirement income nesteggs, which is our subject today.
MR. MCCURRY: I knew you would like that.
Q Wrong answer.
MR. MCCURRY: We are -- very often -- I promised this assembled gaggle of experts here today we would talk a little bit about the three-legged stool of retirement income security, because we talk so often here about Social Security and the long-term solvency of Social Security, but most Americans need to know and should know that Social Security is not the be-all and the end-all of protecting their income needs in retirement, because federal policy has long been that it is a combination of Social Security and individual savings, and then the pension benefits that they accrue through private sector provided or employer provided pension coverage that make the basis of a secure retirement income.
This administration proudly and correctly can point to a number of things that we've done over the last four years to ensure that that important part of the retirement income stool is shored up and standing quite well. So that's the reason the President today devoted some of his public comments to this really very encouraging report, annual report, from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, why we've talked a little bit about some of those things that we have done to protect America's workers who are enrolled in plans like the popular 401(k) plan and then some of the things that we're proposing to assure that pension plan participants and beneficiaries really can be secure in the knowledge that their pension benefit will be there when they need it in years of retirement.
I want to correct one thing I said in the gaggle today. I think I got asked at one point if anything we were talking about today required legislation and, obviously, with respect to the audit provision that the President has announced today, there is some legislation required for that. But I've got a wonderful group of experts here who can tell you more about it led by the President's National Security Advisor, Gene Sperling, who is here also --
Q Security Advisor?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because we have long said that -- (laughter) -- economic security is a valuable component of national security, it's easy, sometimes, to make those up, but of course he is the National Economic Advisor to the President, and we are not trusting him with all of the other matters of the world yet.
Q Does he have any mutual fund tips or anything?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's not here -- if you ask him, he will bob and weave and not tell you anything about Fed appointments, so make sure you do that -- put him on the spot about that.
Olena Berg, who is the Assistant Secretary for the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration of the Department of Labor is here; John Seal, who is the Acting Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; Mark Iwry, who is the Benefits Tax Counsel at the Treasury Department, which has a large role to play in matters related to pension enforcement; and Ellen Seidman, the Special Assistant to the President for National Economic Policy. And I throw it to you, Gene. Take it away.
MR. SPERLING: The rest of us had resisted the nestegg egg jokes or puns. When I was Deputy Director of the Economic Transition Team, we had a few items that were considered our kind of trouble spots, trouble things we might inherit. One of them was commercial banks, which became a problem that didn't happen, a lot because of the strength of the economy.
The other was certainly the health of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. This article here, which the President was referring to, is December 20, 1992, and it's a front-page story in The New York Times: "U.S. Pension Agency is in Deep Trouble, Economists Warn a Bailout May Be Needed." It was certainly the case that this was one of the less glamorous but very important problems that we inherited when we took over. And on this one, there truly is a very direct relationship to the improving situation and the actions that this administration took. The chart, as you can see, shows us going into the black, or blue as it would be on this chart, for the first time, going from a $3 billion deficit to an $869 million surplus.
In 1994, in the Retirement Protection Act, we took several steps. One of them was to ensure that there was appropriate contributions by underfunded pension plans, which not only ensures that more funds were coming into the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation but, just as important, it took away a lot of the moral hazard danger that you saw in the S&L situation, and so that was a very critical part. It also changed the rules to make sure that there was objective valuation on pension plans. And third, what you heard today with the woman who spoke was the early intervention plan, which was when there was an underfunded plan, it gave the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation more freedom to intervene and ensure that, for example, an underfunded company wasn't selling off its crown jewel, leaving the underfunded pension without any support. It enabled the PBGC to intervene and assure that there was in that transaction that there was at least -- that there was -- in that transaction that there would be some assurance of protection for the underfunded protection plan.
The second thing that we are talking about today is that Olena Berg, as you know, about a year ago we had an announcement here where we talked about her efforts to step up protection of the 401(k) protection, which as we stress -- and as she will stress -- when they talked about their 401(k) enforcement project, most employers are clearly honest, most employers protect the integrity of their 401(k) programs. But to the extent that some were either diverting the funds, borrowing inappropriately from the funds, taking too long and holding the money and collecting the interest and earnings inappropriately, that we were going to take action. And so this is follow-up. Olena is here to explain how we have now collected through this effort $21.8 million that has been returned to 401(k) plans.
Third, we had a tremendous amount of success last year with our pension initiatives. A significant amount of it was passed in the -- during the summer. One of the things that was not passed was our audit reform effort, in which we sought to close the limited scope audit -- what we consider a loophole -- which allows $950 billion of pensions to go without a formal audit. And we are reproposing that. It is something that has had bipartisan support. It's something Senator Dole has supported in the past. And we are hopeful that now that there can be more focus on that provision, that we will be successful.
I will -- at this point we have, really, the top experts who Mike introduced, in our government on these different issues and the people who are very much responsible for administering these programs. So I'd be happy to take your questions, but if they're on the pension area, they will probably be able to do a better job than myself.
Q Gene, you mentioned the three steps that had been taken by the administration to strengthen the pension fund. How much was it those steps and how much was it the strength of the economy that led to this $800 million surplus?
MR. SPERLING: Well, I think the strength of the economy indirectly, in the sense that there were at least no large terminations recently. But I think -- and I'd let John answer this question -- our view is that it was very much the reforms that were by far the main contributor.
MR. SEAL: I think there are really three major reasons for turning around PBGC's financial condition. First and foremost was when the President proposed and the Congress enacted 1994 pension reform legislation. That legislation, which we call the "Retirement Protection Act," increased premiums for underfunded pension plans and associated those premiums with the risk that those underfunded plans posed to the insurance system.
The second contributing factor was that PBGC itself strengthened its financial management programs over the last three to four years, and so our investment returns have increased, especially in the last two years, helping the surplus.
And, finally -- and this is largely due to the strong economy -- as Gene said, we've had fewer losses from terminated plans that we've had to take over, especially in the last two years, and so that's held down our liabilities.
Q Was the closing of the loopholes rejected the last time around in Congress, or was it just not considered?
MR. SEAL: In 1994 we, in fact, did strengthen the pension funding requirements of underfunded plans.
Q I mean on audits.
MR. SEAL: Oh, I'm sorry.
MR. SPERLING: My recollection is what happened is, we proposed our entire pension legislation. The vehicle that that ended up being taken up in was the bill that was associated with the Minimum Wage Act, and so it was less that it was explicitly rejected than that it was not one of the pieces that was taken out of our pension plan and put into the accompanying small business legislation that went along with the minimum wage increase.
MS. BERG: Senators Simon and Jeffords separately had produced a bill, but it didn't make it through.
Q Gene, this may be for -- on the premium increases, that has helped the solvency of the fund, but it looks like in your documentation here that the number of underfunded pension plans is going up. Is that correct?
MR. SEAL: The number of underfunded plans is not really going up. I think what you're probably looking at is our latest estimate of total plan underfunding, which is about $64 billion. That's as of December 31, 1995. That pension underfunding did go up, and the reason was because interest rates fell so dramatically in 1995.
Q So, in other words, even though the solvency of the corporation now is -- even though the corporation itself is in much better shape, it looks like --
MR. SEAL: The pension insurance system is in much better shape.
Q It looks like workers around the country, however, are in worse shape.
MR. SEAL: No, I wouldn't conclude that because, in fact, the Retirement Protection Act of 1994 does include stronger incentives to fully fund pension plans, and we expect, in fact, that you will see that over the next 10 to 15 years.
MS. SEIDMAN: Underfunding consists of essentially two components. One has to do with how much money you put into the system and the other has to do with the interest rate that is assumed to get from the money you have now to the liabilities you have to pay in the future. When interest rates drop precipitously, the amount of money that one would have had to have increases quite dramatically from the discount rate.
What happened in 1995 is that the reforms that we were phasing in, and that we are phasing in coming off of the '94 legislation, are moving up the amount of funding. But the interest rate, the precipitous drop in the interest rates -- it was a drop of 185 basis points; that's the largest single drop that has been in the PBGC's history -- but that overwhelmed it for that year.
We don't expect to see that kind of thing happen again. It may. But the fact is that in 1994 we put in place reforms that over the course of the next 10 to 15 years, really, will make a very major, major difference in the basic level of funding and will stop -- or will dampen down this kind of fluctuation you get with the interest rate changes. Also we don't expect that kind of precipitous change in interest rates again.
MR. SPERLING: It is one of the only areas, counter-intuitively, where lower interest rates end up having at least a seemingly -- give a seemingly negative experience, whether that is the case or not.
Q With regard to the 401(k) rule change to require more timely investment of contributions, what has been the pattern until now? Have all employers almost universally waited 90 days before transferring the money into these portfolios? Does it affect virtually all 401(k)s -- 80 percent of 401(k)s? How much of a change does this rule represent?
MS. BERG: Well, the basic requirement has always been that the money be transferred as fast as is feasibly possible. So employers never had 90 days, nor do they have the full 15 days after the close of the month. You have to transfer the money as soon as you can.
But what we found out when we started these investigations, that there were many employers who had misunderstood the rule. And, furthermore, there were some people who had sold them on setting up plans by saying, you'll have this free float for up to 90 days.
So it became apparent, number one, that we needed to get the word out, that there was this misunderstanding about what the rule was. And also because it had been eight years since the regulation had been put in place, and with all the technological changes, it was also apparent that we could substantially shorten that maximum time period that people had, and that's what we did.
Q Has it been a case where virtually all employers waited the 90 days? Do you have any figures?
MS. BERG: No. No, the $70 million estimate that was used earlier is based on the best information that we have from the forms that plans are required to file with us, and from some surveys that were done by employers' groups in the process of changing the regulations. So that's a pretty good estimate of what the difference is here.
But by no means were most employers holding the money for that kind of period of time.
Q You don't have any percentage figures of how many employers waited 90 days, how many did not?
MS. BERG: Not beyond that estimate.
Q Other than the audit bill, does the administration have any other plans for any other pension reform proposals this year?
MS. BERG: The audit bill, of course, is the major piece from the President's proposal that wasn't put through. We're very anxious to get that in place as well, and then we're also working with the many groups interested in these issues to see if there are further simplification proposals, proposals that can help expand coverage, and we're certainly looking for ways to do that.
Q Is there a timeframe for the audit bill, about when you would expect it to be introduced on the Hill?
MS. BERG: We hope that it will be ready within the next few weeks.
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks, everyone.
Q Can we ask Gene another question?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, absolutely. Ask him about the Fed. You've got them up here.
Q That's what I was going to do. Hey, Gene, where are we on the Fed appointments?
MR. SPERLING: Close.
Q Close? How close?
MR. SPERLING: That's all I'm saying -- close.
Q Did you send recommendations to the President?
MR. SPERLING: We're close.
Q You haven't sent them yet?
MR. SPERLING: We're close.
Q How close are you, Gene? (Laughter.)
MR. SPERLING: Close.
Q Are you going to do both of them at the same time?
MR. SPERLING: Yes. I hope.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
Q Is Netanyahu coming here this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Hold on for a second. I actually have a piece of news to commit.
The President is pleased to announce that he intends to nominate General Wesley K. Clark, United States Army, to succeed General George A. Joulwan as Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. This nomination is subject to the approval of the North Atlantic Council. We are actively consulting now, of course, with our North Atlantic Treaty allies. The President intends to send forward to Congress General Clark's nomination, also to serve as Commander-In-Chief of the United States European Command. And we have a longer written statement that goes on appropriately and gushingly about General Clark, someone that many of us know well, admire, and think will be an inordinately good SACEUR.
And, using my --
Q Crossing out the words "Easter egg"?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I have -- now I have bad news. Bad news. Today is Kathy McKiernan's last day in the White House Press Office.
Q She goes to a far better place. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: For her work -- (applause) -- for her work in that nether region that we call the Lower Press Office, she has been recognized for her good grace and wisdom and hard work, and is, as some of you know, newly announced as the press secretary of the Honorable Edward M. Kennedy. So there's life hereafter once you serve at the White House. Kathy was once a reporter and then she fell into hard times and had to make a dishonest living and became a volunteer in the 1992 Clinton for President Campaign, hired, I'm told, by Mary Ellen Glynn. Is that correct?
MS. GLYNN: Just at the convention, then she got --
MR. MCCURRY: Kathy first worked at the convention. Kathy first worked at the convention, then moved her belongings down to Little Rock and went to work there, impressed everyone mightily and started here, as most of you know, as a press assistant in 1993, and was promoted because of the wisdom of the press secretary to the rank Assistant Press Secretary in 1995. And, Kathy, I will miss you personally, and many here in this room will miss you for your unfailingly professional attitude and your uncommon good nature, and the general all-around helpfulness to everyone here. You've been a true asset.
Q Why are you letting her go then?
MR. MCCURRY: Because people ought to have the experience here to move up and out in their career. And as someone who was once a Senate Press Secretary can attest, that is a very good place to further and deepen the skills that she's developed here, responding to questions, learning how to dodge, learning all the necessary tricks of the trade as one who is a press secretary. And Kathy is already good at it and will become even better after she works on the Hill and eventually will probably return down here to be at this podium some day, for all we know.
Q Oh, we wouldn't wish that on anybody.
MR. MCCURRY: Strike that. Like George Stephanopoulos, after she works in the Senate she'll go off and make a fortune doing something else. And I know you'll join me in wishing her well as her career blossoms. (Applause.)
Q Mike, what kind of assessment did Dennis Ross give the President from his recent trip to the Middle East?
MR. MCCURRY: An accurate one, which is to say a sober one. But also one that, as always in the Middle East peace process, contains in the dark clouds the silver linings that encourage those who work to create peace and to nurture peace. It gives them the will to try harder.
Q Well, which silver linings did he bring?
MR. MCCURRY: He reported favorably on his conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with the Chairman. He and other members of our team will continue to be in contact with the parties encouraging dialogue between them. There will be considerable work that the members of the U.S. peace team will have to do in coming weeks. But there are also things that the parties themselves may be in a position to do that will restore some element of confidence to their dialogue that will allow them to bridge the differences that have existed, and some of the hostilities that have arisen, and to return to direct negotiations -- which is ultimately the formula by which they will reconcile their differences and resolve the long-standing issues that will have to be resolved if peace is to take hold permanently in the region.
Q Will Netanyahu come this weekend? Is there a -- there is a rumor.
MR. MCCURRY: There is a report -- it's, I think, beyond a rumor -- a report that Prime Minister Netanyahu may be in town early next week for a meeting of AIPAC. And as Israeli Prime Ministers often do when they're in town for an occasion like that, they take the opportunity to have a short visit here at the White House. We don't have any confirmation that that's going to occur, but some indication of interest. And once that becomes something formal, we'll let you know quickly.
Q Is the Secretary of State planning to go to the Middle East soon?
MR. MCCURRY: There's a variety of steps that we take in this process from time to time and we judge what we need to do at the moment, and that step is not one that has been announced.
Q You're really playing down the Hussein visit.
MR. MCCURRY: Not playing it down --
Q I mean, it doesn't have any of the parade of --
MR. MCCURRY: He is here -- as some of you know, is here regularly on personal matters unrelated to the Middle East peace process. And as he always does -- almost always does when he's here in town, he drops by for a visit with the President. This is not an official working visit by the King, but it is an office visit that he will have with the President tomorrow. And it will be an opportunity to exchange views on the process, on Ambassador Ross's trip.
Q So he's not here on the peace process, per se.
MR. MCCURRY: He is here in the United States on an unrelated matter and will take the opportunity the visit with the President, as he almost always does.
Q Mike, is the administration seriously interested in compressing the timetable for final status talks?
MR. MCCURRY: We are having good conversations with the parties about how to restore confidence between them. I'm not going to speculate about those discussions which are continuing.
Q China briefing -- is he getting one today?
MR. MCCURRY: He's already had one opportunity to talk to the Vice President and either this afternoon or sometime tomorrow they're going to go through in a much more detailed way the sequence of visits that the Vice President had, some of the encouraging things about his trip to China and then also a review of his other stops in the region while he was out there.
Q Was he upstaged by Gingrich?
MR. MCCURRY: We didn't think so, but that's not really -- we don't tend to measure those things the way you do.
Q What opportunity today you're saying, or are you saying that from the previous times that he called him?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they talked already once today and are going to talk at greater length either later today or tomorrow.
Q Did you find Gingrich's visit to China helpful, his remarks?
MR. MCCURRY: We have long encouraged members of Congress, including the leadership of Congress, to travel in the world, to kick the tires of U.S. diplomacy overseas. We're encouraged that I think almost a fifth of the United States Congress has gone to the People's Republic to engage in dialogue with the leadership of the People's Republic. Speaker Gingrich speaks for himself, as he always does, but we did have an opportunity to exchange views with him about policy towards China prior to his departure, but he was obviously speaking for himself as he analyzed the state of U.S. relations.
Q How can you speak for yourself when you say the United States is going to defend a certain country?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't need to speak individually on that because we've spoken collectively as a government in the very precise formulations that are in the Taiwan Relations Act, which are utterly transparent.
Q Do you think it's appropriate for the Speaker to make comments like the ones that he made? Is that the right thing for a member of Congress to do, as opposed to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: It's useful for members of Congress to reassert the importance we attach to relations with the People's Republic and to reaffirm longstanding policy as codified in this case by the Taiwan Relations Act.
Q So the President -- just to follow up -- the President does not feel that it was inappropriate for the Speaker to make any of those remarks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Speaker spoke for himself and the President has spoken for himself on the subject of China. But we are never discouraged when members of Congress take the time to explore the parameters of U.S. engagement overseas and particularly in a relationship as important as the U.S.-Sino relationship.
Q Some people might say the President's abdicating his foreign policy role when he stands by and doesn't say anything critical when somebody comes out and admits --
MR. MCCURRY: The Speaker full well knows that the President is Commander-In-Chief and the application of the Taiwan Relations Act to any specific security situation is the President's responsibility; the Speaker would be the first to tell you, I'm sure.
Q Is there anything that the Speaker said -- you said he speaks for himself, but was there anything he said over there that was not congruent with administration policy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he described U.S. commitments in the region in a shorthand version that doesn't explicate fully the parameters of the Taiwan Relations Act; if he had been speaking more thoroughly on the subject, I'm sure he would have restated what a large bipartisan majority of United States Congress agrees with, which is reflected in the 1979 legislation that addresses U.S. security interests vis-a-vis China.
Q Well, what about what he said in China about human rights? I'm talking not only about Taiwan. Is there anything he said that was not completely consistent with U.S. policy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would prefer to comment on what Vice President Gore said, since he presented a very authoritative review of U.S. attitudes towards human rights questions in a speech that he delivered in Beijing that, in my opinion, received far too little coverage, given the importance that the administration attached to his presentation.
Q Well, just to follow up on that, though, it sounds like what you're saying is Gingrich got better press than Gore in some ways, and what I'm wondering is, why couldn't Gore have delivered a similar message that Gingrich did in terms of being tough on human rights, if --
MR. MCCURRY: He gave exactly that speech, but my impression is that those covering his trip were covering another aspect of his trip. He gave an important speech that I think was largely under-noticed.
Q Mike, you might, perhaps, set the record straight. But according to the reports from China, one of the contrasts between Gingrich and Gore on human rights was that Gingrich and his party brought to Beijing a list of dissidents, of political prisoners that they wanted either treated better or released, and that Gore did not have such a list with him. Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding from the reporting I saw on the Vice President's trip is that that's not true. We can check further, but my understanding is that he did raise specific cases. That's my understanding.
Q Did Gore, himself, raise the names?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's my understanding.
Q Well, Mike, what does the President make of the mixed reviews the Vice President's trip to China got, and the possible implications for his political future?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think that that's exactly the problem he ran into. He took a political press corps with him that covered him like he was making a trip to Des Moines instead of a trip to Beijing. I think on the substance of what he was there to do -- and he had, you know, a very explicit assignment, given the pattern of high level exchanges that we've had -- he was there to further and deepen a dialogue that we have that ultimately leads to an exchange of visits between the two Presidents. And he did that exceedingly well, mission accomplished.
Q But you're saying that there was no difference between the message that the Speaker and the Vice President delivered on human rights to the Chinese leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I'm not familiar enough with what the Speaker said personally to the leaders that he met with. He talked about it publicly, so did the Vice President. I think their public statements stand up pretty well as an account of how much both the Speaker and the administration attach importance to the subject of human rights in China.
Q Do you think that the issue of drinking the toast with Li Peng has just been overblown and was something that was insignificant?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think it's -- our relationship with China has been described by the Secretary of State as a multifaceted relationship. And I think the Vice President's trip was multifaceted and you chose to cover it through the prism that you elected to view the trip.
Q But I don't think that answered the question. Do you think that that --
MR. MCCURRY: I thought I answered it pretty well.
Q -- was an appropriate toast? Do you think that toast was appropriate?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's been covered and reviewed at some length; I don't intend to go back to it now.
Q Do you foresee the Speaker stopping by after he returns, to give the President a fill on his visit over to China?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will have an opportunity, I hope, pretty quickly to see the Speaker in connection with other subjects. And I'm sure they'll take time to review the Speaker's trip and other subjects, too.
Q What occasion will that be?
MR. MCCURRY: They've got a lot of work to do on matters that the President has already identified and I think you're aware of, related to the budget.
Q Is there a date set, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: There hasn't been a date set for that, but I expect that they'll do that rather quickly upon Congress' return.
Q Mike, can you give us some better guidance on when these Fed nominations are coming down -- beyond "close"?
MR. MCCURRY: Nope.
Q Do you expect it today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't expect it today, no. In fact, I doubt it will be this week.
Q Mike, the new immigration law that the President announced on September 30th kicks in tomorrow, April 1. And it's got some very tough measures for legal deportation. And also people like Salvadoreans and Nicaraguans who are here are legally allowed to work and -- what is the White House reading on this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that there are aspects of that law that will present difficulties, as we've said in the past; and aspects of that law that need to be addressed through the kind of corrective measures that we anticipate. But also there's a determined effort to deal with problems related to illegal immigration. The United States will continue four square on those efforts. Maybe we can talk a little bit more about that tomorrow.
Q Mike, there was an editorial today in the paper --petition the FEC. Has the President come any closer to making a decision about a rule-making?
MR. MCCURRY: He is considering it.
Q Do you have any time line, time frame?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Mike, can you give me a sense of whether or not the administration feels vindicated on the Supreme Court's ruling on --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to look into that.
Q Did the Clinton administration ever get any word from the King family about helping out with this trial for James Earl Ray?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of specifically, no. We do have contacts with the family from time to time, just in the normal course of remaining in close contact with leaders in the community. But on that specific question, I'm not aware that we've had any extensive dialogue with the family.
Q Has the President made a promise that he could try to help push it along?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not made any comment on that. That's a matter that falls within decision-making that will have to be undertaken at a different level.
Q Mike, on China again, I just want to follow up on Mara's question. Are you saying that the reason that Gingrich came off as sounding more forthright on human rights is because the press didn't play it up enough with Gore?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying, look, different things got covered different ways, you know. And I'm not going to sort out the difference in the coverage. I think there have been plenty of pundits who have done that on their own.
Q One of the hits on Gore's China trip was that during the years of the Soviet Union, American presidents went over to Moscow would meet quite often with dissidents as part of their schedule there, and Gore didn't have any such meetings. My question is, was -- did he meet with any dissidents? If he did not meet with them, were there any dissidents outside of prison to meet with, or is it a case where they're all locked away now and the Vice President going over there has no access?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check in with the Vice President's staff and look into the --
Q Can you take the question as to whether an attempt was made for --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see if the Vice President's staff has anything they want to contribute on that question.
Q Mike, back on the Middle East and the Hussein visit in particular. Is he going to -- is the President going to be comparing notes on the status of the peace process or lack of peace process with Hussein, or is he going to try to get him involved in some new initiative? What is the game plan for that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: The President highly values the insights that King Hussein brings to the process. The King has been active in his own dialogue with parties in the region fairly recently. The King and the President will exchange views on Ambassador Ross's visit -- those conversations that have been held since that visit, those things that governments can do and are doing to encourage dialogue between the parties. They will have, in short, an opportunity to make full review of the status of Israeli-Palestinian discussions and no doubt will visit some of the other aspects of the process, as well.
Q Does the President share Dennis's expressed view that really nothing can be done further on the peace process until you quiet things down?
MR. MCCURRY: I would be very surprised if that's an accurate description of Ambassador Ross's view.
Q What he said is the first thing that needs to be done is for violence to end.
MR. MCCURRY: That's absolutely true, and the President shares that sentiment.
Q Mike, are you ready to talk on the record about tomorrow's event, the TBA event?
MR. MCCURRY: Nope.
Q I have a question, Mike, about this visit by King Hussein. I'm a little unclear. You say he's here on other business and it's just an office visit. Yet, this was scheduled before and was put off due to the tragedy --
MR. MCCURRY: The modalities of handling this visit are exactly those that we've had the last three times King Hussein has been here, I believe.
Q Mike, are there any developments on the issue of releasing more campaign finance-related documents?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, to follow up on Rita's question, I've talked to our lawyers about it and they're working on a range of things. And I said, look, we need to be in a position to do this batch of Ickes documents, I get asked about it fairly regularly. They want to be able to handle follow-up questions that we said Mr. Davis in a position he can answer follow-up questions, so they're doing work on that. And our intent would be to try to get those public by midweek sometime this week.
Q Well, is that another change in position? Because I thought last week you said that you were --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q -- no, last week you said you weren't going to dump any more documents, that you were going to answer questions --
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that. I said that we had concerns --
Q -- and you pointed fingers to the Burton Committee up on the Hill --
MR. MCCURRY: I had concerns about that and I think it is accurate to say that most of what you'll find entertaining and enlightening about these documents have probably already appeared publicly. But, you know, we have -- the concerns are the ones that I stated before. This is a third party submission and we have some concern about aspects related to a third party submission. But I think we're in a position to say we can -- at least those portions that are not covered by any confidentiality agreement that the Democratic National Committee has secured from the committee, we'll be in a position to make those public later on in the week.
All right. See you.
Q Thank you.
END 3:10 P.M. EST