THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:28 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right, let me add to what the President announced to your pool a short while ago, that the United States will appeal the court's decision in the line-item veto case. We've got a statement from the President in which he obviously that the tool of the line-item veto is one that he fully intended to use to strike wasteful spending and tax items from legislation to protect the interests of American taxpayers. He believes the Congress took the right step when it enacted this law last year, and, as you know, the President was pleased to sign it.
The Solicitor General at the Justice Department completed a review of the court's opinion earlier today, and, in consultation with the White House Legal Counsel's Office, authorized an immediate appeal to the United States Supreme Court, a feature the legislation provided for that -- for such an immediate appeal. The Solicitor General will also ask the Supreme Court to expedite consideration of the appeal and attempt to hear oral arguments in the case by June, so that the court could conceivably consider the issue during the current term. Obviously, we hope they will.
The President strongly supports the action that the Justice Department is taking, and the President hopes that it will result in an expedited ruling that clears up any confusion. You have a statement from the President to that effect.
Q It's hard to believe the President taught constitutional law at the university of Arkansas. He doesn't seem to uphold the Constitution here.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's for the Supreme --
Q Those powers were never given to the Executive Branch.
MR. MCCURRY: It's for the Supreme Court to determine ultimately the constitutionality of this particular statute. The President firmly believes it is constitutional. So did a majority of the United States Congress, the elected representatives of our people under our Constitution.
Q They -- sometimes, though, you thought that a couple of amendments they didn't quite interpret correctly.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's a great deal -- a great body of constitutional law that we could debate the merits of here, but it's Friday afternoon and let's go home. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, how does this change the dynamics of the budget debate if he -- he was going to have this tool that might have given him a little bit more leverage on this and other issues --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are at the moment working very closely with members of Congress to try to fashion agreements in a bipartisan way that the President would support and a majority of Congress would support, and it would not occasion use of any veto, line-item or otherwise. So our work in this past week has been with the Congress on a balanced budget agreement that would represent the best work that everyone would embrace, and so far it's hard to say that the availability of the line-item veto has had much of an impact. They're not at a point in the budget process now where that tool would have that type of effect. They're looking at broad budget categories, broad issues that are in the budget debate, and I don't know that that has really had any demonstrable effect.
But it is -- ultimately, the President does need to have that authority to restrain spending available, and that's why the Justice Department is making an urgent appeal.
Q Will he go to the Hill next week to talk about the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not clear. When I do the week-ahead for you at the end of the show here today, that will not be a feature of the schedule for the week-ahead at this time.
Q Do you think that it's likely that they will get to the stage next week where they can profit from face-to-face talks?
MR. MCCURRY: As the President had already indicated before, he would hope that the conclusion of this process we're in now with our budget team, working with the budget chairs and ranking members on the Hill, would result ultimately in a bipartisan leadership meeting, that they would further refine the budget issues and make progress towards a balanced budget.
Q My impression on the line-item veto is that you can use it to kill a few line items, a few pork barrel spending projects here and there. Does the White House have any estimate of how much wasteful spending you would hope to save?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it depends on how much Congress enacts. There's none in our proposed budget. (Laughter.) If they adopted that, they would be solving a problem. But it has never been used, and so it's very difficult to contemplate what the effect might be. It depends on how Congress fashions various pieces of tax in appropriating legislation.
Q But we're not talking about a lot of money here.
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have any clue how much money we're talking about. It depends on what Congress does.
Q Mike, you indicated that you're not at the stage in budget negotiations now where the presence or absence of a line-item veto will have much of an impact. At one point during the process does it begin to -- either its absence or its presence have any effect?
MR. MCCURRY: When they pass something for us to look at.
Q This has no impact on the way negotiations may go, based upon whether or not it's in the offing.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's what I was addressing with Peter's question. At this point, I would suggest it hasn't had that type of impact because they've been dealing in broad budget discussions and not the kinds of things in which there are trade-offs that are line-item trade-offs.
Q I understand. And that's what I was trying to get at.
MR. MCCURRY: That's typically, in the budget process, much later in the appropriating process.
Q Is it more likely when you're going through a process that is more hostile than the one you're in now?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't want to necessarily say that. I mean, we don't have a track record. There's been no precedent for the use of the line-item veto so we don't know what the effect is as you work through various pieces of legislation. We just haven't --we are into an era in which this has just come into effect since January 1 of this year. We would learn more about how the tool would be used as we went through the balance of this year and went forward.
So I don't really want to suggest to you that there's a way of analyzing that.
Q Is the money in the President's budget proposal for free insurance for low-income Americans who suffer with HIV?
MR. MCCURRY: The money is there. The Vice President, as he indicated last night, is asking the Health Care Finance Administration to find out if there's a way of making expedited coverage available for those who are suffering HIV/AIDS. They're going to look at that question in the next 30 days. The argument that health care finance experts make is that it is less costly ultimately to the taxpayer and to the government to treat people earlier in the stages of the disease than it is after the long and debilitating effects take hold later on. So we believe there would be net cost savings over time.
But it is principally an issue of making sure that necessary health care is available to those who need it. There have been new developments in the treatment of HIV/AIDS that should be recognized and should be accounted for within the Medicare program. There's no estimate that I know of at this point on cost, but HHS would be a good place to go to get more information on that.
Q Could you comment on reports that the U.S. and the European Commission have come to an agreement on Helms-Burton?
MR. MCCURRY: I could tell you it would be a very important development if the United States and the European Union, which have been in disagreement on the application of the Helms-Burton statute, came together and agreed that their political differences should not be reflected in a trade disagreement, and that as a matter of trade policy we would agree that this is not an issue that needs to be taken up by the World Trade Organization, that we will work together through our separate and different means to pursue the goal that we do share, which is peaceful change in Cuba and progress towards freedom, human rights, and market economics. That would be a significant development. Our Deputy Secretary of Commerce Stu Eizenstat has been doing a fabulous job working very closely with the Europeans, and he should be the one that tells you about any success that he might be prepared to announce very shortly.
Q It's already on the wires, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's -- just letting it go over there. And I just told you how warmly we would welcome that when he announces it.
Q Mike, the President spoke today about the possibility -- his concerns about the possibility of a powder-keg situation in this country in the coming years. I was wondering if you could flesh that out. What is he thinking about specifically?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have, as the President suggested to you, as you look ahead to the 21st century, a country that is going to be more diverse. It's going to have more ethnic and racial diversity in the future. And we have made in the last several decades enormous progress in helping reconcile examples and evidence of past bigotry, prejudice, and injustice. But that's not the same thing as creating a society in which people of diverse ethnicity and races live together peacefully and in fact understand that their diversity and their differences are part of the strength we carry into the world as we compete in a world that is changing and is facing a lot of the challenges that we face internally.
And the President specifically in that passage was noticing -- or noting how many societies around the world, because of ethnic tension, face really grave dangers. We see it in Europe in the Balkans. We see it in Africa at the moment in Central Africa, where there is ethnic fighting that has led to genocide. We see it around the world, where ethnic tensions and sometimes racial tensions cause that type of conflict. That can be avoided here, as the President suggested, because we -- but in order to do so we've got to work at it. And, as the President almost said and as I've said, we intend to be working on a major initiative on that in coming weeks.
Q Mike, to come back to that, you're talking about this country and he seems to be saying that we're in danger here. He's talking about a danger here. I guess my question is, what -- that would beg the question, why doesn't he favor some kind of limitation on the numbers of people who are coming from other countries, the number of immigrants to this country.
MR. MCCURRY: The President suggested the opposite. He said that the differences that we have and that we incorporate as one America are really going to be the way in which we compete successfully in this world and overcome some of the challenges that have disrupted other countries.
I mean, what he's saying is that as you look at a very diverse, changing world that's getting smaller as we go into an interdependent world of a global economy and global information flows, that our ability to compete as a diverse and unified people and doing business with people of other ethnic cultures and racial backgrounds -- if we use our strength as a diverse nation to meet those challenges, we are going to come out ahead in the long run.
Q Doesn't sound like a powder keg to me.
MR. MCCURRY: The flip side of that is we've had recent examples -- and they're painful ones -- in our society of racial conflict, you know, hostility, hatred, on occasion civil disturbances. And we know that, too. And we've seen it both ways in our county and we have to work harder to embrace the kind of vision the President has of a country that is really addressing those issues effectively.
Q Mike, don't you think it's a sad state of affairs that the White House has to come out with a major initiative in a matter of weeks in 1997, moving into the 21st century, on racial issues?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not a sad statement. It's a statement of commitment to overcome those instances of injustice and prejudice that we know continue to exist. But you think back to where this country was in the 1940s -- we'll have a moment to do that just next week when we think about the moment that Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier in baseball. Think about the progress we made in the 1960s, a time when there were major riots in the urban centers around the country around racial hatred. Think of the barriers that have been broken, the progress that's been made. But then look around and understand that we are not done yet, we're not finished yet. And to commit major efforts to continue to address those issues is, in the President's view, a very warranted exercise.
Q Is it fair to say that the President sees this potential crisis ahead and so far, other than continuing to talk about it in the way he has done and continues to do, he isn't quite sure yet what else he should do about it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, he's got some very good ideas of what he wants to do, but he wants them to be real and to make a difference. He doesn't want just yet another study, yet another commission, yet another exercise in talking around the problem. He wants to have an effort that will lead to concrete results. And I think that's what he's spending a lot of time thinking through now and working with his advisers on. And it will make the substance and the tangibility of the effort we launch much more real by putting this extra effort into the planning for what he intends to announce probably sometime in May.
Q I'm a little bit curious about the comparison you made a couple of minutes ago. Are you really suggesting that the President foresees the possibility of conflict in this country like that that's put two armed camps or more against each other in Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying that we see the disastrous consequences of ethnic and racial tensions as you look around the world. We know we are becoming a more racially and ethnically diverse society, so we have to guard against more hostility by working harder to diminish hostility and hatred.
Q The budget talks, Mike -- are they making any progress --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had a report on what they were up to today. We had our team up there on the Hill today, and you can check in with them. They've usually been saying whatever they limited amount they have to say at the conclusion of their talks up there.
Q Question about the Tenet nomination. There is a story in the London Independent this morning which suggests that Tenet as the Deputy Director bears significant responsibility for the failure of the anti-Saddam groups which Saddam rolled over so easily last June and September.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that is a story, as with many stories that appear over there, that is so fraught with dangerous misinformation it's not worth commenting on. In any event, it deals with, allegedly, an intelligence operation; I wouldn't be able to talk about on the record in any event.
Q What dangerous misinformation? Can you be more specific?
MR. MCCURRY: I just -- there are numerous examples of that newspaper having stories that are more fictional than factual.
Q But how about in this particular one? Can you help us on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can find a way to help you, but not right now.
Q Mike, will the President announce Tom Foley to be the Ambassador to Japan next week?
MR. MCCURRY: Stay tuned. (Laughter.)
Q Would you steer us away from that, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q Would you steer us away from that?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't say anything about it that would eliminate his ability to announce whatever he wants to announce himself.
Q It's tax filing time.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q April 15th.
MR. MCCURRY: You got yours done?
Q Yes, I sent them in last week. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I hate people like that. (Laughter.)
Q Anyway, what is the White House -- what's their word to everyone who's procrastinating, especially from the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Get with it. (Laughter.)
No, the truth is, they haven't done theirs either. But he -- we will probably do our annual review of the President's and First Lady's tax status on Monday.
Q They haven't done theirs yet.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are -- it's being done for them. They haven't reviewed the final.
Q They usually -- the annual -- they meet with their tax adviser who helps prepare the forms, and then go through and sign them and make sure they're all correct and send in whatever they send in or get back whatever they get back. And we'll tell you all about it.
Q They file jointly?
MR. MCCURRY: Live and in color.
Q Mike, has he seen the Fed list yet? Do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: It's kind of lurking around there on the desk somewhere. But I don't know if he's done anything with it yet.
Q It's in his in box or out box?
Q Have you gotten any closer to naming a date for the big three automakers coming to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q There were reports that it may be put off until after the Hashimoto visit.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about that. I don't know how close we are to naming a date.
Q Do you have a date when Martin Lee is going to be coming by here for whoever he's going to see?
MR. MCCURRY: Early next week, and no, we do not know at what senior level he will be received.
Q What are you going to tell him? Hang tough?
Q Mike, do you have any --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll review the relevant issues that are dealt with in the joint declaration, the basic law and status of relations.
Q Mike, any White House thoughts on the -- during the standoff between Mayor Giuliani and the United Nations over parking?
MR. MCCURRY: That's State Department, and go there. The State Department is working to resolve the issue amicably with New York and with the United Nations.
Q Mike, how did the talks go with the senior delegation from the PLO? And where do we go from here on the Middle East?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they may be -- they had a morning session. I believe they were anticipating another session this afternoon, so I'd rather leave that to the State Department to tell you about.
Q Do you think they'll come here?
MR. MCCURRY: No plans to do that.
Q Is David Johnson going to be an ambassador somewhere?
MR. MCCURRY: If the U.S. is so lucky.
Q What area?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- that's a personnel matter, and I don't discuss that.
Q -- deal with personnel matters.
MR. MCCURRY: We deal with happy news when it's announceable and not when it's -- (laughter) -- speculated upon.
Q Mike, there is a report today that the Ickes documents indicate that Vice President Gore was informed in advance that his 1996 fundraiser at a Buddhist temple was a fundraiser and not, as he had said that he thought, a community event.
MR. MCCURRY: Those documents have been available for well over a week or so now, and I think the Vice President's office addressed that question back a week or so ago.
Q Mike, you might have dealt with this this morning, but can you give us a readout on the meeting that the President had last night with the leadership of the --
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't get a detailed readout. It was good. It was an opportunity to review with the Democratic leaders some of the work that we have been doing this week and to look ahead a bit on the calendar. They had a good discussion about how we work together closely with the Democratic caucuses in both the House and the Senate as we face some difficult issues. We won't see eye to eye with the Democratic leaders or with the Democratic caucuses, but there are different points of view within the caucus, and we want to make sure that we continue to coordinate with them, consult closely with them, and work closely with them as we advance the large objectives that certainly we have in common.
Q Was it just the budget, or any other topics?
MR. MCCURRY: Mostly budget, CWC --
MR. TOIV: Budget -- CWC, and working groups.
MR. MCCURRY: And the working groups, some of which have actually been producing a little bit of success.
Q President Clinton has called for a fast track authority several times now in the last couple months. Is there anything positive that the White House can do to move that process along, to prompt Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, part of it is what we did today, speaking to a distinguished group of editors, helping them understand the arguments for fast track authority, encourage them to bring it to the attention of their audiences. We can do a lot publicly to help build the public case as we prepare for the time that we would actually seek the legislative authority to negotiate.
Q Gingrich sent you a letter yesterday, saying that he wanted the President to send up legislation. Is he going to have a formal response to that letter, A; and, B, are you sending up legislation soon?
MR. MCCURRY: We always respond to the concerns addressed by the Speaker, of course.
Q Are you saying that in the Ickes papers that we've been given --
Q Well, wait a second. Could we just finish fast track? I mean, when do you think they're going to send it up?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll send it up at the point that its developed sufficient bipartisan support that we can advance it with the goal of getting the authority. We've got a lot of work to do on that, we recognize. We've got a lot of consulting to do with groups that are affected, not the least of which are environmental groups, labor unions, and others. But we'll also have to work closely with members of Congress to fashion the right kind of legislative approach. That's going to take some time, but that doesn't mean in the meantime we can't build a public level of support and a public understanding of the necessity of free trade agreements that will be important to our economic livelihood in the years ahead.
Q So Barshefsky's deadline of the second week in April is pretty much out?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what deadline you're referring to.
Q Are you saying that in the Ickes papers that we've been given so far, it says anything about --
MR. MCCURRY: The documents -- this is a story that was in that same batch of documents that have been available for a week and the Vice President answered questions about at least a week ago. Nothing new there that I know of.
Q You mentioned environment and labor as two concerns on fast track. Is there an internal debate going on within the White House how to handle this?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Is there an internal debate within the White House of how to handle, for instance, concerns of environment and labor?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President just spoke to the issue and we all support the President's views.
Q The White House assessment of the -- with the 18 days to -- of the chances of the Chemical Weapons Convention at this point.
MR. MCCURRY: We feel pretty certain that with a date certain and with very hard work, which we are doing, we can get the support necessary both to defeat amendments that would, in effect, cripple the treaty and ultimately to get the votes necessary for ratification. But it's still going to take hard work. The President has got his shoulder to the wheel now and has been working it this week and we, no doubt, have additional work to do in the days ahead.
Q How else is he working it?
MR. MCCURRY: Phone, mail.
MR. MCCURRY: You know, if really necessary he'll take the crutch and whack somebody. No, he wouldn't do that. But he will use the means at his disposal to really make the case persuasively. And we've got a whole team of people from the administration that have been up making the case effectively, too.
Q Yes, Mike, the European community say today that they get some agreement with the United States regarding Helms-Burton?
MR. MCCURRY: I spoke to that at the beginning of the briefing and said that would be great news and that properly our Deputy Secretary of Commerce, who's been negotiating with our European allies and friends, will speak to that, I think.
I thought that had already happened? What time are they doing it?
MR. JOHNSON: It's scheduled for 2:30.
MR. MCCURRY: They're probably announcing it now, he's speaking to that. But the President would warmly welcome an agreement that would keep this out of the trade dispute resolution mechanism so that we could continue, no doubt, to have differences but resolve them amicably in diplomatic and political channels. We think it's important to work together with the European community to bring pressure to bear on Cuba that will lead to positive economic and political change in Cuba. But we believe we can do that and pursue our common objective without making it a source of irritation and trade litigation between the European Union and the United States. Indeed, I think by now we can safely say that the Ambassador Eizenstat has been able to reach that agreement and that is good news.
Okay, now, here's the deal -- oh, week-ahead real quick. The radio address tomorrow. First of all, the President, I think, is in for the weekend. I don't know of any plans at this point for him to journey out. He had one option, a private social function that he was thinking about outside the White House tonight. I don't think he is going to do that, so I think he is going to be in for the weekend. And he told me he doesn't plan any excursions that he knows of.
Monday the President will be making an announcement regarding the apparel industry that many of you already know about. That's at 12:50 p.m. in the East Room.
Q 12:50 or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll put out the schedule, you can get it. Tuesday we're going to go up to New York, ultimately for the Jackie Robinson anniversary game. But the President will also do an anti-tobacco event at the Huddle* School in Brooklyn. Wednesday, no public events. Thursday is the Conference on Early Childhood Development that you all know about and that we'll be doing a lot of briefing on as we get into next week. And Friday is Teacher of the Year Day at the White House in the Rose Garden.
Q What about Thursday?
MR. MCCURRY: Thursday is the Early Childhood Development conference.
Q Mike, do you rule out an FEC event next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't rule in or rule out any announcements about personnel for next week.
Q No, no, not personnel, the petition.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh. I would come pretty close to ruling that out. That's an issue that's an active issue and actively under review at the White House. But we are also simultaneously working closely with our allies on the Hill in the campaign finance reform fight. And one feature of that legislation is of course a ban on soft money. And we'll continue to work closely with them. We also will continue to look at the utility of asking the FEC to take some action with respect to soft money. But those two really should go together and be complementary. And at the moment I think we will concentrate on the legislation.
Q If the President gets to the Fed memo this weekend, Monday do you think he'll do an event?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that. I want to give him whatever amount of time that he wants to make the right decision. He could easily decide that he'd like to review some other names. I just don't want to put him in a corral that doesn't give him some freedom of movement.
Q But it won't be over the weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: It better not be. I just said no.
Okay, now, for the rest of the afternoon we've got one piece of paper. Are we putting out a statement on Ambassador Eizenstat's announcement?
MR. JOHNSON: They're putting a statement out there.
MR. MCCURRY: I think we've got about one or two pieces of paper that will be done shortly and then, hopefully, that's going to be it for the day -- and the embargoed radio address and a piece of paper that supports the radio address, which would also be embargoed.
Q Mike, is Charlene Barshefsky being sworn in today here? The USTR had said that today she was going to be sworn in.
MR. MCCURRY: We better check. She may be. I don't think the President is participating in it, but she might be over here. Let's go check and see. It might be something the Vice President or someone else is doing. We'll check for you.
Okay, see you Monday.
END 2:56 P.M. EDT