THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:49 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Having briefed at less than brief length yesterday, and knowing that you all are mesmerized by the conference that's going on and about to resume, and so deeply into that subject that you can't possibly have any interest in any other subjects, I'll just kind of be here for one or two questions. And then I've got Bruce Reed here, too, if you've got any questions about the proceedings so far.
Q Could you talk a little bit about the criteria that was used to choose the Fed nominee?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, the criteria is the one that you would expect of the President, and the President is interested in excellence in the operating of the independent Federal Reserve. He wanted people of high reputation, strong credentials, and expertise to work in what is an independent governing body. And he is settling in on some very excellent and highly qualified nominations, and I expect probably sometime -- several weeks we'll be in a position to make formal announcements. But that will be after some additional checking on people that the President is interested in nominating.
Q There was no bias towards higher sustainable growth as opposed to fighting inflation, or anything of that nature?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't comment on that type of criteria in any event because it's up to the independent Fed to make monetary policy. But the President looks for people who are highly qualified and capable of making independent judgments about the direction of monetary policy.
Q But, Mike, I mean, the President had publicly said that he lamented a lack of debate within the Fed on the policy.
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's interested in having diversity represented within the Fed.
Q Mike, this morning in the Post there was an article about a letter asking for an expedited consideration of his line item veto ruling. Can we get a copy of that? Is there a copy of that available here, that letter --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think it was a letter. I think they went into court and they filed -- probably filed a brief. We had told you last week that the President would expedite the request and that we were asking the -- the Solicitor General was looking at making an expedited request to the Supreme Court to hear the case. They may have gone before the court and filed a motion. We'll check with Justice. You may want to just call Justice directly and see if the Solicitor filed something. I got the impression from the story that they had gone together with some of the members of Congress that
had brought the case and jointly filed, asking for an expedited review.
Q Mike, what's the White House view on Bob Dole's act of generosity to the Speaker of the House? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: This entire matter has been one that was the responsibility of the House to address. For that reason, the White House has no comment on it.
Q Is it, though, a good idea for the Speaker to be paying this reimbursement with money borrowed?
MR. MCCURRY: The Speaker has spoke, and it's up to the House and the American people to make judgments, not for the White House to make judgments.
Q Mike, since the Clinton administration has officially said no to the King family as far as helping out with the James Earl Ray trial, are there any loopholes at all that the Clinton administration can maneuver around to help expedite a trial for this man?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any loopholes. I think that the case has to be handled according to Tennessee state law. The President and the Vice President feel it would be prejudicial for them to enter into the case because it is a matter pending in state courts, not federal courts. And the case will have to be reviewed properly according to Tennessee state law.
Q The Justice Department can't work with them at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what legal recourse would be available to the department. I'd have to check with them.
Q Where does the Middle East peace process stand now?
MR. MCCURRY: The Middle East peace proces stands pretty much where it's been. It's at a difficult moment. We are pressing forward with our diplomacy. Ambassador Ross has just been in the region. In fact, I think he was meeting with Chairman Arafat last night and with Prime Minister Netanyahu today, expecting to return here prior to the Passover holiday.
It requires painstaking, disciplined work to keep the parties engaged and talking and addressing their responsibilities and differences. That process will continue. That has continued through more than one government in Israel, through more than one different type of political environment. And that -- we just continue to play our role, irrespective of any domestic matter that's being addressed by any of the governments in the region or by any of the parties.
Q Did Senator Lott and President Clinton talk about the budget last night? Was there a phone call or something that took place?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Senator Lott was here for dinner. I don't know whether -- I'm not aware that they had any budget discussions, but given the President's interests, the Majority Leader's interest, they may have had an opportunity to have a private moment about that. I don't know for a fact that they did, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.
Q Would you comment on what went on last night at Blair House? Were any minds changed?
MR. MCCURRY: It was not a session that was designed to change minds. As the President said afterwards, it was an excellent evening, and we ought to do a lot more of it. It was really reaching out to members of Congress, discussing with them America's role in the world as we think ahead to the 21st century, and how we take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities we have.
It's a chance to step back from some of the day-to-day issues that we deal with in foreign policy and really look ahead and look at a much wider and bigger horizon as we think about the interests the American people around this world. It was a good session, it did cover some topical issues, because the President did take the occasion with members of the Senate there to urge ratification in the Chemical Weapons Convention.
And we've had two significant developments today there; one actually yesterday with President Ford's strong statement, so we now have a bipartisan list of Presidents who have advocated for this treaty. And then, obviously, General Colin Powell's very strong statement up on the Hill this morning is most welcome and significantly advances the argument in favor of the Convention itself.
So we have, I think had some very positive developments in the last 24 hours on that issue. They did spend some time on that issue last night, but the great bulk of the evening was devoted to looking at the large questions that are going to define U.S. foreign policy as we go into the next century -- what is the future of Europe; what is the future of Asia and the role that some of the larger powers in both Europe and Asia will play as we intersect with them and as we advance our interests and acknowledge and exchange views on their interests.
Q You mentioned Asia, Mike. What will the President tell Mr. Lee tomorrow? Will there be a specific message that he delivers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he will certainly hear and listen to Mr. Lee's concerns, but the President will say to Mr. Lee the future of Hong Kong is something of enormous importance to the United States. There are 40,000 American citizens in Hong Kong. U.S. citizens have invested $13 billion in Hong Kong. So the future of Hong Kong as it makes its transfer to the People's Republic is of enormous concern to us.
It occasions the acceptance of an invitation from the United Kingdom and the People's Republic for the Secretary of State to actually be there when the transfer occurs because we want to be there both to witness the importance of an historic occasion, but also to represent those who want to see continuity in terms of what the people of Hong Kong enjoyed -- freedom, individual liberties, and a prosperous and growing economy. That is available to the people of Hong Kong under the formula established in the basic law in the joint declaration, and we will assert an interest in preserving that formula into the future.
Q On those points, I don't know if you can quantify it, but how worrisome do you find statements that have been made in fairly recent times by the Chinese government -- the transition?
MR. MCCURRY: We have expressed a number of concerns about changes that have been made in the nature of representation and some of the changes that have been made in the structure of civil law, and in some of the formulas that have been suggested by those who will soon inherit the right of governance for Hong Kong. And we will continue to press actively those concerns and stress the value we attach to the commitments that have been made by the People's Republic in the agreements they've reached with the United Kingdom.
Q Is the President's decision to meet with him in any way a message to Beijing?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I would call it a message, although things tend to be interpreted in that way from time to time. It is a statement of our belief that Hong Kong will continue to live in prosperity and the people of Hong Kong will continue to enjoy freedoms and liberties that they have enjoyed even after July 1st.
Q Have you had any sort of communication from the Chinese government asking the President not to meet with Mr. Lee?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that they've made a specific request that the President not see him. They have made comments on his visits and statements here in the United States, as you are aware from their public remarks.
Q Mike, the discussions between NATO and Russia on the charter seem to be snagged on the issue of NATO retaining discretion to improve the military infrastructure of new members. You've left the negotiations to Solana and Primakov, but given the impasse, is the United States offering any ideas or suggestions for how to break this thing?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had a very positive exchange of views with President Yeltsin on exactly that subject in Helsinki and the formula derived by the two Presidents we think is instructive to the Secretary General as he now negotiates with the Russian Federation. They are in a negotiation; this will play out, as most negotiations do, as sides press their points. But the overall question of how forces are arrayed and facilities are arrayed, given the expansion that will occur, is something that I think the two Presidents, President Clinton and President Yeltsin, made progress on when they met in Helsinki, and we believe that is a structure for the NATO-Russian Federation negotiations that will prove fruitful.
Q President Yeltsin maybe is taking a step back from Helsinki, that --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's more accurate to say there is a negotiation underway.
Q President Yeltsin, after his meeting with Chancellor Kohl today, said he expects -- Yeltsin expects to be in Paris on May 27th for a signing ceremony of a NATO-Russian charter.
MR. MCCURRY: Paris in spring.
Q Paris on May 27th. So the question, of course, is --
MR. MCCURRY: Wouldn't that be wonderful, wandering the boulevards, visiting the gardens. (Laughter.) Wolf, you'd be there. You'd be doing your stand-up with the Eiffel Tower in the background on such an historic occasion. (Laughter.)
Q We might even do Inside Politics from Paris.
MR. MCCURRY: This would be a Monday, unless you are changing the day. What time would that be, Wolf? Let's see -- (laughter) -- you can always watch Inside Politics at 4:00 p.m. Eastern every day on Cable News Network. How am I doing?
Q Or you can watch Oprah. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: To answer the question that I think you are going to pose if you got around to one, we are obviously continuing to work very hard with other members of the Alliance to finalize a charter document with the Russian Federation. It's not done -- clearly not done, based on the questions you just heard, so they've got a ways to go.
But we share President Yeltsin's sense that this would be an enormously important achievement because it speaks to the future of an undivided, democratic Europe that goes from the Urals to the United Kingdom and it also, I think, represents a way in which we can modernize the Alliance and think about how NATO continues to preserve the peace and the security interests of all members as we go into the 21st century. That would be truly historic; there will need to be an appropriate occasion to finalize that charter. The venue has not been determined, nor the date, because, among other things, the charter itself hasn't been finished.
Q But there is no doubt that the President would attend such a signing?
MR. MCCURRY: Little doubt in my mind that if such a truly historic occasion occurred, that the President wouldn't want to be there, and probably not much doubt that that sense of the U.S.-EU summit being at the end of May is a good, convenient scheduling trigger for that type of event. But we're not at the point where we can say it's going to happen, or that it would necessarily happen there, as lovely as Paris is in the spring.
Q So Wolf shouldn't put satellite time yet?
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf should not, no.
Q A couple of brain questions. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I brought my brain with me -- Bruce Reed.
Q Do we expect a product out of today's summit? Will there be recommendations? And also, the President and the First Lady seemed to suggest that they liked the idea of universal Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and new moms so that they can get this type of education, and also for some sort of program to provide child care to families.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me -- the Director of the President's Domestic Policy Council, Assistant to the President, Bruce Reed is here -- a good person to take those questions. I'll tell you, on the first one -- you can speak to them, too -- among other outcomes, the conference proceedings themselves are going to be distributed and a report from this conference is going to be made available along with, one would hope, a somewhat less lengthy executive summary, so that people really do get some of the benefit of the discussion today. But there are other ways that we intend to follow up, too.
Take it away, Bruce.
MR. REED: I think the most important outcome from the conference is, as Mike said, the attention that this issue will get. And the President this morning complimented all of you in the media for giving as much attention as you have to the issue of what parents need to do to help their young children learn and develop. So we think there's immediate value in just getting information into the hands of new parents and parents with young children.
Second, we'd like to see employers make the most of this information. One of the most important issues that was talked about this morning is child care. And there was a particular emphasis on the value of on-site child care and what employers can do to make it -- reduce some of the stresses on working parents.
And finally, we think that this conference will help to reinforce the arguments that we're making for our whole agenda. The President talked this morning about the need to expand health coverage to young children -- to all children, excuse me -- and the importance of passing a good flex time bill that will make it easier for parents to spend the time they need to with their children, in addition to expanding Family and Medical Leave to give parents more chances to --
Q But, Bruce, are these wishes or does the President have a plan to somehow provide child care to young families, or to grant universal health care to new moms, pregnant moms and kids?
MR. REED: Well, first, we have an agenda pending in Congress to do much of what was talked about this morning -- expanding health coverage, cutting the number of uninsured children by 5 million over the next five years, giving parents --
Q He said universal.
MR. REED: Well, it's no secret that we have long wanted to expand health coverage to all Americans. We are taking a step-by-step approach, and our plan that is pending in Congress right now takes a very good step towards covering more children. There is bipartisan interest in this issue. There are Republicans, as well as Democrats in Congress, who are very supportive of the idea of expanding coverage to more children. And we're going to keep pressing forward for that.
Q I don't know if you can answer this, but what is it about the Pentagon system that the President was so impressed with? What makes it so good?
MR. REED: Well, the Defense Department does a number of things right. The reason that it has the best child care on Earth is that, first, that they train their staff very well; they pay their staff of their child care workers good salaries so there's less turnover. They've worked very hard to get their centers accredited, and they've put a particular premium on this because, as the President said this morning, we don't want the people in our Armed Forces who are all over the globe defending this country worrying about what kind of care their children are getting. And the point that the President also made this morning, that Americans who are not in the Armed Forces are, over the long haul, also very important to our future and we ought to be giving -- using this model of child care that is clearly working and asking the Defense Department to team up with child care centers around the country to show the good practices that they follow.
Q Is it more of a money thing, or more of a structural way of going about doing things that makes what they do --
MR. REED: It's not just the money, it's the organization. They have a lot of -- they link their various child care centers in areas where they can't have one centralized child care center, and they have a number of smaller centers they provide the support so that the individual centers can help one another out. And as an employer, the Defense Department has put a premium on this, and we want other employers to do the same.
Q What is the evidence that their child care centers are so much more effective than those -- as a whole -- as private child care centers? And what practices, what particular practices are any different?
MR. REED: Well, I think that the -- in general, we've only begun to get complete evidence on the impacts of child care on brain development, but there was a good study that came out a few weeks ago which suggested that quality child care did make a real difference and that quality child care could help to supplement the kind of support that parents are giving to their children at home; and that working parents who had their children in quality child care didn't need to worry, that they could be confident that this would be good for the kids over the long haul.
Q But what is the evidence that the military's system is any more effective than quality child care as a whole?
Q What is it about military kids?
MR. REED: It's not about military kids. As I said, the experts in child care quality argue that the main things that you need in order to be a good child care worker are training. And a number of the scientists at the conference this morning said that it's not just a matter of being in the same room with the kids; it's knowing that when a child falls down and needs to be comforted, what to do, knowing how to deal with the early verbal signals that they give, and that we shouldn't assume that child care work is something that doesn't need any kind of training.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me try. What I think -- one of the things about the system that the Pentagon maintains or the Defense Department -- one of the interesting things about the Defense Department is -- well, a couple of things, several that Bruce mentioned -- the standards that they set for quality; the wage and benefit structures that they have for those who are actually doing the care giving, which is admittedly might be harder to replicate in the private sector, but it's an important feature. You get more stability. You get people who are committed to staying in that occupation as a profession, who actually are committed to doing care-giving as a profession. They also have a -- partly because they're connected to one of the largest organizations in the world, they also have more resources available for doing things like unannounced inspections to determined quality.
And they, in general, for those that accredit -- I'm not sure, maybe Bruce knows -- who actually does accrediting, but they have a higher rate overall of accreditation by the presumably state and local agencies that provide child care center accreditation as against privately provided child care.
So there's ample evidence that this is probably quality. And then, as Bruce says, there's just also the expert testimony that those who are familiar with the system see it as one that ought to be an appropriate model.
Q That touched on one of the problems which is that it's expensive -- quality child care to people who aren't in the military can run up to $50,000 a year.
MR. MCCURRY: Right, which is why we -- among other reasons, why we are suggesting there has to be at least $4 billion more spent in our own budget proposal for the federal assistance related to child care. But that is going to be increasingly a need. We see it in connection with welfare reform because it's clearly going to be needed for those who are moving from welfare dependency into the work force. But it's also one of the needs now of a growing, expanding economy that has got more mobility, it's got more disaggregation, and it's got different labor market patterns in general. That's just one of our facts of life as we go through the changes our society is going through, is the need for better and higher quality day care.
Q Are the reasons that it was successful in the military is so military specific that a lot of it cannot be transferred to the private sector.
MR. REED: I don't think so. I think --
Q I mean, larger organization and the ability to do snap inspections and the money and the coherence of the organization and the standardization across the nation and other bases -- all those are things that the military can do because they're the military. And maybe there will be difficulty in translating some of those things which are crucial to the success in the private sector.
MR. REED: Well, some measures are simply practical. Unannounced inspections, for example, as Mike said. Money is obviously important. The welfare bill that the President signed last year expanded the availability of child care by $4 billion and the success that we have had in reducing the welfare case loads over the last four years has put a number of states in the position to go even further than that because they have a surplus of money since the welfare block grant was based on the peak case load in 1994.
Q I'm not sure that's the point of the question of whether that will work --
MR. REED: There's no reason why any employer from IBM to K-Mart couldn't take the basic steps the Defense Department has taken to provide good, quality child care to their employees.
Q Mr. Reed, what is your reaction to the rather pointed comments that Dr. Brazelton had about welfare reform and its impact? The President seemed to indicate that the only remedy now lies with the states, recommended that people get in touch with governors.
MR. REED: I think we have a basic difference of opinion with Dr. Brazelton on welfare reform. The President believes that welfare reform will be good for children. We believe that children who grow up in homes and communities where there is work will be much better off in the long run than children who grow up in communities that are completely outside the economic mainstream and in homes where there is not work.
It is very important as part of welfare reform that we provide good child care. And one of the best things about the welfare reform bill is that it expanded the amount of child care money by $4 billion and it preserved health and safety standards nationwide that we need to make sure that kids get good child care. The welfare bill requires states to provide child care to mothers who are being expected to work, who have young children, and it also allows states to exempt mothers with children under one.
Q Do you have any estimates of how big the problem is of poor child care? We all know that there are a lot of cruddy child care operations where children are put in an environment that actually does the very harm that this conference seeks to avoid. Do you know how prevalent this is? What's your baseline for remedying the problem?
MR. REED: I don't have a study off the top of my head about the proportion of good versus bad. I think one of the problems that the President highlighted this morning is that even with the new money that we've made available for child care, there are a lot of working parents who get squeezed who don't have enough disposable income to choose good child care over bad, or don't have information at their disposal to distinguish between good and bad.
So I think the President asked the question at the end of this morning's meeting, one of the reasons why we want to have a White House Conference on Child Care in the fall is to explore these issues and see whether over the next five to 10 years we want to do more to make child care more affordable, more available and higher quality.
Q Bruce, on that, when the President announced the White House would be hiring some people off welfare and the government would attempt to do that, we learned that government workers at the lower ends of the pay scale can't afford government child care centers. Has this conference, then, made the President think about making federal child care centers affordable for workers at the lower end of the pay scale?
MR. REED: The General Services Administration is looking at that question. Some agencies have the discretion to provide sliding scale arrangements to their employees, but it's something we would like to do more of. Keep in mind that the people who are leaving welfare for work and the people that we would hire in the federal government off of welfare would have access to child care subsidies from the states.
Q I'm talking about existing government workers, though.
MR. REED: I understand.
MR. MCCURRY: We try to help people like that with things like the earned income tax credit and other steps that we've taken, too, which they provide some measure of benefit.
Q -- earned income tax credit, Senator Gramm today proposed a health care plan for children, but he proposed to fund it by scaling back the EITC. What is the White House view of that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, half of it sounds good and half of it sounds bad. (Laughter.) You know, pretty obviously. We're interested in expanding health care coverage. We've got a plan in our budget on how to do it and how to pay for it, and we think it's the right way and we think the earned income tax credit has been very beneficial to those at the lowest wage-earning end of the scale. It's been enormously useful and helpful to keep people in the work force as opposed to pushing them into public assistance.
Q Bruce, did you mention -- is there any breakout on what the military actually spends on child care overall, or per child, or some sort of benchmark to see what you will be shooting for?
MR. REED: I can get the number. I think, off the top of my head, as I recall, they provide about -- I think it's about $250 million in subsidies to make it more affordable. I don't have a figure for -- well, I think that would be the net cost of what they do.
Q And the education requirements for a child care worker, I presume are higher. That's what you're suggesting.
MR. REED: Excuse me, the education --
Q Requirements for someone who works in child care.
MR. MCCURRY: And for training.
MR. REED: Yes, the standards in training, right.
Q What are they? What significant difference is there between them and --
MR. REED: I can get you the background on precisely what they are. But the basic --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, some of that is in the fact sheet that we gave you.
Q Any progress on getting Alexis Herman's nomination to the Senate floor?
MR. MCCURRY: There is more work being done on that this afternoon and we'll probably be in a better position later today. We have reached out to members of the Senate. We had one or two meetings scheduled this afternoon. We hope that the net result of that work will be moving to a time certain for a vote.
Q What do you think of the way that the Speaker is going to finance his reimbursement?
MR. MCCURRY: I already dodged that question before you came in. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, are the Clintons paying for any of their legal bills out of personal funds?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe they have some, but early on --some of the initial bills. But I don't know to what degree they've paid recent bills. They're far in excess of the amount that has been collected through the legal expense trust, as you know.
Q A follow-up to that. Is there -- the leftover money from the Inaugural -- is that permitted to pay for legal bills?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not in the sense that that's not money that could be transferred into the legal expense trust. And I believe that the excess funds go to charitable contributions --
MR. TOIV: Well, there are a couple of different options, but this is not one of them.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not money because it's not money that is personally the Clintons' money.
Q Can it be used to pay down a DNC debt?
MR. TOIV: No, it could also be used to pay for another Inaugural.
MR. MCCURRY: It could be used, for example, the '92 surplus was held over and used as the starting point for the '96 Inaugural money and presumably some of the surplus could be used for that purpose, too. But it can't be transferred into a political account as far as I know.
Q How are the budget negotiations going?
MR. MCCURRY: They were doing some work today on some of the matters, in fact, that the President talked about with many of the congressmen and senators last night -- the funding of our efforts overseas to really project America's interests overseas, both through our diplomacy and through the work that we do to engage in the world -- the so-called 150 Account. Both Secretary Rubin and Secretary Albright were going to join some of the discussions today. And then, they plan to take a break, as I understand it, for the Passover holiday and come back at it next week.
Q This week is no longer the make-or-break week on the budget. Does next week become the make-or-break week? Does it look like --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think they're still going as long as they're making and they're not breaking. And so far, they're making.
Q Where does George Tenet's nomination stand? I understand that that has not been sent up to the Senate yet.
MR. MCCURRY: I think they're completing all the necessary paper work that has to be transmitted to the Senate. And has it -- it's scheduled to go -- I thought it was -- I had heard it was going to go very shortly, formally to the Senate.
Q Mike, talking about the 150 Account, what was the status of the reorganization plan? Has the President seen it or is it still in the discussions?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has on the way to him some options for State Department reform, reinvention and perhaps reorganization. And he is anxious to get that because the administration has committed to Chairman Helms, among others, that we would address that. Plus, we believe taxpayers deserve to have a foreign policy apparatus that functions more efficiently and that uses dollars prudently and wisely to advance the global interests that we have.
It's important work that needs to be done. It's important -- we're asking for additional expenditures for our work overseas because we are -- need to remain engaged in this world. And there's been an overall decline over the last five years in the amounts we spend to protect America's interests overseas. So if we're going to ask to get kind of back up to where we need to be, we have to make sure we're spending that money very carefully and wisely. And the President's anxious to meet our obligation to meet that test. So he'll be looking at those options over time. The Vice President has worked closely with Secretary Albright and others to develop some good ideas.
Q What's the President doing tomorrow, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow is Teacher of the Year Day. So we'll be greeting teachers from around the country and rewarding their accomplishments. And the President, as you will imagine, will continue to talk about the importance of the education challenge that he's put before the country.
Q Did the President meet with Reno after his reelection and signal to her that he didn't -- would rather she not appoint any independent counsels?
MR. MCCURRY: The President met with Attorney General Reno as he did with all the Cabinet members one-by-one, and we briefed you on that. And that subject, to my knowledge, didn't come up.
Q In a National Review interview, Dick Morris said that they met and that Clinton signaled that he didn't want an independent counsel.
MR. MCCURRY: He didn't say that at all. He said he thought that that might have happened. And I don't know that he'd be in a position to know because he wasn't there.
Q Back on the Herman issue, has the President talked with Alexis Herman in the wake of these two controversies that have come up in the last few days?
MR. MCCURRY: He's probably seen her in passing in the last several days. I'm not sure exactly when and where. But he's very supportive of her nomination and is anxious to hear that any remaining concerns are addressed so that we can move to confirmation.
Q What is she doing now, Mike? What is she doing in this period, this protracted period of her confirmation fight?
MR. MCCURRY: I think she has been working mostly to satisfy the concerns that senators have, and she has been presumably doing some preparatory work or study work in advance of taking the job.
Q Mike, Charlene Barshefsky and Larry Summers yesterday were sounding warnings on the rising trade deficit with Japan, and numbers out today confirm that so far this year the deficit is increasing with Japan. Will this characterize, do you think, the summit meeting next Friday that the President has with Hashimoto?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because there have been -- remember, we have in place structural agreements that deal with a lot of our trade concerns. It has been typical in the past that when the President meets with the Prime Minister of Japan that the issue that dominates his concerns and tensions are the trade-related issues. That has largely subsided in this relationship because we've been able to reach agreements. We continue to press to make sure that those agreements are fully implemented and the markets are open.
But, as the Commerce Department suggested today, one of the things -- one of the realities we have to deal with right now is that the United States economy is humming along quite nicely and we are doing better than most other countries in the world. So, consequently, our consumers have got additional income to spend, they're buying more from overseas, and we continue to press exports up to record levels. So we're selling well, too.
But what is clear here is that part of this imbalance comes from the overall strength of the U.S. economy and the presence that we have in the global marketplace right now. We will probably have to contend with that fact and I think overall there are some positive indicators, as Commerce indicated, in both the China numbers and the Japanese numbers. And we've got to continue to press forward on market access opening that will allow us to deal structurally with the trade equation over the long term.
Q Is the President reading Bob Reich's memoirs?
MR. MCCURRY: He told me the other day -- I haven't checked with him recently -- he hasn't had a chance to read them yet. He got a copy of them and I think Mrs. Clinton had read some of it. But I don't think he had had an opportunity to read it yet.
Q Also, can I ask on the security track with Japan, today the Japanese Diet approved leases for U.S. bases in Okinawa. What kind of reaction do you have, given that the two leaders are meeting next week?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we appreciate that action and appreciate the conviction that Prime Minister Hashimoto brought to the debate in the Diet. It was his firm argument that the United States' presence was vital to the security of Japan and that, simultaneously, the United States needed to be sensitive to local concerns as we have that forward-deployed presence in the region. That is exactly the view of the United States government as was conveyed to the Prime Minister most recently by Secretary Cohen when he was in Tokyo.
We believe that the strong U.S. presence in the Asian Pacific must continue. It involves a forward-deployed presence in Japan. We deeply appreciate the cooperation of the government of Japan in hosting that presence and providing the proper status of forces, arrangements for that deployed force. But we also simultaneously are very sensitive to the local concerns and some of the regional issues that have developed around the basing in Okinawa. And we are gratified that our deliberations and our collaboration together with the government of Japan have resulted in a satisfactory basis for future lease negotiations.
Was that right? Sounded good.
All right. What else?
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: All right.
END 2:30 P.M. EDT