THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Well, good Monday morning -- afternoon, evening. Whatever it is. It's morning someplace in the world, Mark.
Q Yes, and lucky for you. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I just know that's true. Anything you'd like to know about today? Yes, sir.
Q Yes, I would like to know about the President's upcoming trip to North Dakota and any details you can offer.
MR. MCCURRY: We're still working on details.
Ms. Glynn, why don't you brief the press here on the President's trip to North Dakota tomorrow, such as we know anything about it.
MS. GLYNN: There's actually not that much to say at this point in time. Erskine Bowles convened a meeting this morning of Cabinet members to talk about long-term and short-term plans for South Dakota and North Dakota, and Minnesota. Out of that, there was a recommendation to travel to North Dakota tomorrow. I think he's going to leave around 9:00 a.m. and travel to Grand Forks Air Force Base, and it looks like he'll do a helicopter tour and then sit down with some folks at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
That's about all I have at this point in time.
Q Any idea who he's going to sit down with -- city officials or --
MS. GLYNN: No, we don't know right now. The Grand Forks Air Force Base is apparently being used as a shelter for some of the people who have lost their homes. I imagine he'll sit down with some people there to talk about damage and what the federal government can do.
Q Is he going to Minnesota or anywhere else besides --
MS. GLYNN: It's unclear at this point, but probably the helicopter tour will take in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Q And has there been -- you guys have been keeping him off the helicopter since the knee -- is there a problem?
MS. GLYNN: No, no. We'll use a smaller helicopter this time, which is only one step up.
Q Has the problem with the helicopter been the steps or the vibration?
MS. GLYNN: The steps.
Q Is he more mobile now than he has been in previous weeks?
MS. GLYNN: He's doing better. I don't know if any of you saw Susan Page's story last week, but he's more mobile. He can -- (laughter.)
Q -- plug.
MS. GLYNN: USA Today. (Laughter.)
Q Where could you get it? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Every street corner in America. (Laughter.)
MS. GLYNN: But, in any case, he's getting much better. He can move his knee 90 degrees now and he's ahead of schedule.
Can I brief on anything else? (Laughter.) North Korea, maybe?
Q Is he taking the FEMA chiefs with him?
MS. GLYNN: Yes, James Lee Witt will probably come with us, as well as maybe some congressional folks and some Cabinet members. I should say, later this afternoon I think Erskine Bowles is going to have a meeting with the North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota congressional delegations to talk about the issue.
Q Normally, you guys wait until the emergency has passed so you don't get in the way of efforts. The river is just peaking today, or cresting today. Is it a little earlier than normal to be --
MS. GLYNN: It's slightly earlier than normal, but these people are facing a disaster and we want to see what we can do to help as soon as possible. Actually, we did declare the disaster, I think, April 7th in both states.
Q Is there a risk, though, of making things harder on the --
MS. GLYNN: Well, what we want to do is make certain that we don't. That's why we're going to Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is where a bunch of these victims are housed right now. Of course, we wouldn't do anything that would impact on any of the relief efforts.
Q Mary Ellen, a short time ago, the Mayor of Grand Forks said that she was glad the President was coming because she thought he might be able to provide more aid. Is there more aid to be provided?
MS. GLYNN: Well, we'll see. We'll see.
Q You can't very well show up without something, can you?
MS. GLYNN: We'll see. All right, is that it?
Q But there are no stops other than Grand Forks, at the moment?
MS. GLYNN: Not at this point in time. We expect to be back tomorrow night around 8:00 p.m.
Q Was the President updated today on --
MS. GLYNN: He's been getting updates periodically from the Chief of Staff, and possibly later today from James Lee Witt, but I don't believe that he's spoken to him yet today.
Q Do you know what time that meeting Bowles is having with the delegations?
MS. GLYNN: About 4:00 p.m. today.
MR. MCCURRY: The President, on his day off, has been in the Oval Office catching up on some paperwork. So he's been available to get some updates from time to time from the Chief of Staff and others, and intends to go back over to the residence shortly and enjoy the rest of his day off.
Q Mike, has the President been given any updates on the A-10 search and what do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: Only the same updates that the Pentagon has been making available as they see if they can more positively identify what they believe is some of the wreckage they've discovered.
Q Anything good coming out of those calls to the Hill on Herman?
MR. MCCURRY: The President and others here at the White House have been making a very strong and, we hope, persuasive case for Alexis Herman. But I have to leave it up to members of the Senate to indicate whether it's been persuasive enough to proceed with a vote as soon as possible.
Q What about on the chemical weapons treaty, are you getting any feedback on vote counts?
MR. MCCURRY: We're working hard with those who are fighting hard within the Senate for ratification. We've got work to do and there are still undecided senators and we're continuing to press the case.
Q Did the President meet with the Mayor of Moscow on Saturday?
MR. MCCURRY: He did, I believe had a short, five to ten-minute meeting on Saturday with the Mayor -- a 15-minute meeting with the Mayor of Moscow, reviewing a variety of issues, the status of the Romanov art collection not being one of them, to my knowledge. (Laughter.)
Q What inspired him to have that meeting after some reluctance to say anything --
MR. MCCURRY: The only reluctance about saying we were going to have the meeting was scheduling. It wasn't clear whether the President would be available. But he was, he was in working on Saturday and was delighted to see the Mayor, who is a figure who contributes vigorously to the vibrant political dynamic within the Russian Federation and Moscow in particular.
Q Mike, can you give us a pre-brief on the President's meeting with Hashimoto at the end of the week, the agenda and so forth?
MR. MCCURRY: I can. Let me run through a few things. The President is obviously looking forward to a meeting with Prime Minister Hashimoto, who he now knows quite well and with whom he has a very easy going and comfortable personal relationship. As they often do, they will look at all aspects of the bilateral relationship, centering specifically on security issues and regional political issues. There will be, as always, some discussion of economic issues although, unlike previous encounters between the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Japan, that's not likely to dominate the discussions.
I expect they will review matters with regard to Russia and discussions the Russian Federation is having with NATO. That is a subject of keen interest to many in the Asian Pacific community and to Japan in particular. They'll be discussing issues related to the United Nations. Certainly this will be an opportunity to preview the upcoming Denver Summit of the 8 and the President and the Prime Minister will exchange views on the agenda that will be taken up in Denver.
The President and the Prime Minister will also discuss the discussions that have been underway in New York with respect to our proposal for four-party talks related to the future of the Korean Peninsula.
Q What about those talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Those talks are being addressed by the State Department.
Q You say economic issues are not likely to dominate --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me -- one or two others. China and our engagement with China and the importance thereof is a subject that has routinely been on the agenda between the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of the United States and I suspect they will discuss that subject, as well.
They will also review a series of very high-level visits that have recently occurred to Japan by senior U.S. officials. The Vice President was there, as you know. The Secretaries of State and Defense were there, and General Shalikashvili was there, as well. It will be an opportunity for the President to thank Prime Minister Hashimoto for the good work he's done with respect to the forward basing of U.S. forces in Okinawa. And that is about the range -- there will be some discussion of trade issues, the application of the framework agreements, the results that they have been producing. Also be an opportunity for the President to talk about Japan's domestic economy and the need to increase the demand for, among other things, imports from the United States.
Q You say economic issues are not likely to dominate the discussions. Is the administration satisfied with the way the car agreement is working out in light of the statistics that came out last week?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to have trade deficits with Japan, but we do with a large part of the industrialized world. Among other reasons, that is because of the strong demand for foreign products here in the United States, given our consumer confidence and given the strong and growing U.S. economy. We are, frankly, at the moment in a better position economically than most other industrialize nations, and as a result, there's a higher demand for goods and services, and that leads to higher imports from abroad.
At the moment in the Asia Pacific region, as you know, our trade issues are more complicated with respect to China than with respect to Japan, with whom we have now a framework of agreements that allow us to work forward on market access and to increase U.S. penetration of Japanese markets.
Q But in the balance of issues, why is it that the trade issues have sunk back down? Is it so much that they have sunk, or is it that security --
MR. MCCURRY: Other issues within the region are somewhat more critical, but we also have in place now a structure for dealing with implementation of trade agreements with Japan. And when we have disagreements with respect to implementing those agreements, we can resolve them through the mechanisms available under the framework agreement. That's unlike in the past when there have been major disputes that have complicated discussion.
Q What is the White House's take on this GOP idea to cut the CPI by about .4 of a point for budget negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: Our views on the CPI haven't changed.
Q On chemical weapons, back on chemical weapons --
Q What are they?
MR. MCCURRY: The same -- do you want the same litany as always? I mean, we believe that it's a question of technical adjustment that reflects an accurate measure of inflation in our economy. It ought to be done by people who are experts, and the important thing is to get it right, not to get it for convenience sake with respect to budget. It is, first and foremost, and issue of accurate measurement of the economy; less so an issue of budgetary politics.
Q Did the President make calls on Chemical Weapons Convention today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if he has today or not. He did over the weekend, I believe on Saturday.
Q The five so-called treaty buster provisions that are still out there, is there any attempt to convince -- is there a continuing attempt, I guess, to convince -- to look for ways to try and finesse these things short of redoing the treaty? Are folks still looking for ways to not just convince senators that they are -- that their views on these are wrong, but ways to reach some kind of agreements on them that, of course, would not require renegotiation?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that we have on the conditions that we're able to reach -- and I think they number now 28 -- we were able to reach accommodation with senators that will attach specific understandings to the ratification instrument. With respect to the remaining issues of which I think there are a total of five, we just don't believe there's a way of reaching those same kinds of agreements without vitiating the treaty and requiring a renegotiated treaty. For that reason, we have to make as strong and as persuasive a case against those particular provisions as possible, and make the case for ratification, irrespective of any changes in those aspects.
We think we have strong arguments in each and every case. You saw the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State together making those arguments yesterday and we're continuing to press the case and the calls that a range of administration officials have been making to the members of the Senate.
Q Mike, what happens legally if those five amendments are passed and then the treaty itself is ratified; is it enforced, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good -- I don't know the answer to that. I think the question is whether it is then deemed that we are in compliance as a party to the treaty or not by the executive council that would implement the treaty. And I don't believe we would be seen as being an original adherent of the Convention in that case.
Q Will Secretary Rubin and Ambassador Barshevsky take part in the Hashimoto talks?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect, as always, a full range of administration officials will. I don't know their schedules, but they would certainly be normally among those participating in a bilateral with the Japanese Prime Minister.
Q Regarding the President's proposal for four-party talks on Korea, it seemed like last Wednesday you were on the verge of something big; Secretary Albright said when she was in Detroit or Minnesota or wherever she was that we could expect something shortly. And now the North Koreans are sort of dragging their feet, stalling. What is the level of concern here about respective success of those talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been high degree of concern about the future of the Korean Peninsula and concern about the domestic environment in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. At the same time, we have to continue to work diplomatically to ease tensions that exist between North and South and to encourage a dialogue between the parties themselves. The four-party talk formula we believe is a useful one. We will continue to press that case irrespective of the outcome of the working level talks in New York.
Q The President said something to the UAW that he said on another occasion, which is that he said the that Democrats were outspent four, five or six to one in the last 10 days of the election. Do you know what the basis for that assertion is and, also, is that why he thinks that the Democrats didn't win back the House, because they were outspent?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are, I believe, anecdotally some of the reports that he got from members of Congress who talked about their own experience in their individual constituencies at the end, and I think some of that has been substantiated pretty well now by FEC reports.
Q And does he think -- is that why he thinks the Democrats didn't win the House?
MR. MCCURRY: A lot of those close races that could have gone either way were substantially affected by Republican campaigns and those assisting Republican campaigns outspending Democratic campaigns in the closing days, yes.
Q With the President in Grand Forks tomorrow what becomes of this Earth Day speech that he had planned to deliver?
MR. MCCURRY: He may make some remarks here prior to departure related to Earth Day, since tomorrow is the anniversary of Earth Day. The Vice President will be participating in the community event out in Anacostia Park that the President had planned to attend.
Q Back on campaign fundraising, Elizabeth Drew's new book suggests that the President thinks that the fundraising scandal may also have gotten in the way of Democrats keeping control of Congress and even getting in the way of the President's own majority. Does he subscribe to that view?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think the President thinks there are a number of things that affected the dynamic of the race, particularly in the closing weeks. And I don't know that I would try outstanding measure any one influence as against other influences.
Q Mike, tied to the White House's bail out package to the District, one of the things in the memorandum of understanding related to the death penalty. And Marion Barry has converted his previous thinking on the death penalty slightly -- let me change that -- enforcement, not directly to the death penalty but he definitely changed his views on the death penalty as related to cop killers. How does that affect the memorandum of understanding at all?
MR. MCCURRY: As far as I know, it doesn't at all. There's no direct connection between the Mayor's views on capital punishment and the memorandum of understanding, in part because the proposed memorandum of understanding doesn't make any requirements with respect to capital punishment. It does talk about federal sentencing guidelines, but those tend to affect minimum sentences and not capital cases.
Q What about the whole philosophy of getting tough or tougher on law enforcement --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's views on capital punishment are pretty well-known, and he is supportive of it. But I don't think that I want to comment on the Mayor's point of view because it's not really an issue that affects any of the dialogue that the federal government is having with the Capital City.
Q Mike, was Bruce Lindsey in contact with Webb Hubbell after his guilty plea, before his prison sentence? And what's the White House view of this --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in a position to address that issue. You should really call Lanny about that.
Q Anonymous White House official is saying that that would smack of impropriety, quoted in the L.A. Times this morning.
MR. MCCURRY: Lanny would be your point of contact on that.
Q Mike, with lawyers like George Mitchell and Hugh Rodham involve in the tobacco talks, who does the President protect himself from the appearance of a conflict of interest in the White House role in these talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, those are two different people, representing two different sides of the discussion and, as always, the President is protected from potential conflicts by the Counsel's Office, who makes review of any potential conflict. I'm not aware of any in either case.
Q Can the White House role in those talks still be described as monitoring, continues to be monitoring?
MR. MCCURRY: They are actively monitoring, correct.
Q Are U.S.-Russian relations being affected by the nature of the Romanov jewels? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Not so far as I know, but the State Department is better equipped to tell you about that.
Q Is there discussion going on at high levels about this?
MR. MCCURRY: If so, it would be at the State Department.
Q Today Daschle said that congressional Democrats couldn't support a budget deal that makes Medicare cuts in excess of $100 million or tax cuts more than $100 million. Is there concern that that goes against the White House's ability to be flexible?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll continue to be flexible and continue to consult closely with our Democratic friends in Congress, encourage them to understand the need to be flexible, given the reality of what it will take to get an agreement. But I'm not going to attempt to negotiate with any of the sides in the budget debate from here.
Anything else? Then I will -- yes, Susan.
Q Do you think this is a critical week in the budget? Is this a time when --
MR. MCCURRY: I think every week is a critical week in the budget discussions. I mean, they -- I don't think this is about setting any artificial deadlines. It's about getting the job done. There is clearly some non-elastic time period in which you have to reach an agreement before the Republican leadership will decide that they need to go on and attempt to meet some of the deadlines that have already slipped. But for the moment, we remain engaged with them and we make progress. This is a short week because of Passover, and we'll see where we are as we get closer to the end of the week.
Q -- saying the deadline, talk by the end of this week. Is that artificial?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just saying that it's not -- we're not setting any artificial deadlines here. We're interested in getting a bipartisan balanced budget agreement. We're working on it with some measure of urgency. And we want to reach success and not reach sort of arbitrary deadlines.
Q There are some Democrats on the Hill that would prefer the Republicans produce their own budget. Is it the White House's view that if it gets to the point where Republicans have to produce their own but that it makes it less likely for the two sides to reach an agreement down on the line? And is that why --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to foresee -- I mean, the environment in which an alternative budget might be more contentious than the current environment, in which we're together working to try to write a bipartisan compromise agreement. But on the other hand, it might be useful at some point to get to a point where you have --you see some alternative budgets fleshed out. I just don't want to suggest that any one things rules out the likelihood of an agreement. You've got a President very committed to it, and you've got Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill very committed to balancing the budget. And some way or other, the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch ought to be able to come together and get the job done and give the American people a balanced budget.
Q Are the White House negotiators hearing any positive indications on the will fixes that the President wants?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, we've been hearing positive response to some of the ideas that we've put forward and hearing growing concern expressed, particularly at the state level, about the impact of some of those non-welfare reform provisions that were contained in the welfare reform bill and most likely increases the likelihood of getting some package of measures that would address the legitimate needs of those who are, we would argue, unintentionally affected or by -- had to deal with taking people off welfare and moving them into work.
Q Speaking of welfare reform, what's the start date the first person, welfare mother, coming to work?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q Do you have a start date for the first --
MR. MCCURRY: No, but given the interest in that, when we do, we'll report it here, to be sure.
Q When the President addressed -- give a big fix for fast track legislation -- is it true that the White House is going to wait until there's budget agreement before actually sending that legislation to the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the timing on that. I'd have to check on it.
Q Can you take that?
MR. MCCURRY: I won't take it, but I will check into it and get back to you on it.
Q Do you expect an announcement on --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that.
Okay, we've got one piece of paper coming out that is just an amendment to an Executive Order. And I think -- with that, you've got full lid for the day. Okay? Happy Passover.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:49 P.M. EDT