THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:21 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Today's White House briefing will be delivered by Nora Toiv, who is here with us. (Laughter.) She's prepared to talk about the Chemical Weapons Convention, the balanced budget -- (laughter) -- the meeting with President Hashimoto. She'll do about as well as I would do.
Q Can she explain the CPI proposals, too?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, she'll do all that. Flexible bend points, everything.
Q Nora was here last year and she came again. I'm surprised she'd want to come twice. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: She was up late last night and wanted to get a little extra snooze, so this is the place to do it I think. (Laughter.)
Have we now put out our supplemental request? We've got -- the President last night sent up to Congress our supplemental request in connection to the flood damage out in the Dakotas and Minnesota. We've added another $300 million on to the $488 million we had told you about earlier, so we're up now to a total request of $788 million. That's the amount that the administration expects to make available to those three states. And we've got it broken down for you.
Some of it's money that goes through HUD to the Community Development block grant program; some of it is additional contingency funding that the President talked about generally, but we've added some amounts to it. And we are hopeful that the House Appropriations Subcommittee that has to deal with this in markup soon will look favorably upon the request and, no doubt, given the dramatic nature of the flood damage and the lives that have been affected, they surely will.
Q How much more of this -- how much of this is on top of Tuesday's amount?
MR. MCCURRY: $300 million, on top of the $488 million, for a total of $788 million.
Q But he announced $200 million of that on Tuesday, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. We've got --
Q So it's $200 million plus another $188 million?
MR. MCCURRY: A total of $788 million; $300 million more on top of the $488 million we told you about Tuesday.
Q Has he been making phone calls on the chemical weapons?
Q One last question on that. None of that is offset, right, that money you have for balanced budget purposes?
MR. MCCURRY: They tell us it's not offset. I think these are supplemental requests that come. But there's a letter -- can we make the letter available as well? We've got a letter from OMB, from Director Raines, that outlines the request in greater detail. It will help you see how the numbers break out.
Q And it went up to the Hill already?
MR. MCCURRY: It went up last night.
Chemical Weapons Convention -- the President is monitoring the debate on the floor. I expect him this afternoon to call up to half a dozen or so senators that are still thinking about this issue. Our reports from our team on the Hill are that they've had good sessions both on the Senate floor and in closed session today, but there are a number of senators still struggling with some of the issues related to the Convention. The President wants to be available to them to address any concerns they have.
Obviously, the Majority Leader has indicated the President communicated with him on aspects of Article X, Article XI, concerns that he had. We're encouraged by the Majority Leader's remarks this morning, but we are still working very hard and will work very hard right up to the vote.
Q How does he interpret Senator Lott's remarks?
MR. MCCURRY: Favorably.
Q Can you expand on that a little bit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Majority Leader had some specific concerns related to the protections that exist in the treaty that combat the proliferation of chemical weapons and chemical weapons precursors, and raised concerns that in an inadvertent way the Convention might someday lead to an expansion of commerce to some individual countries that would not in our view be those are legitimate receivers of that type of chemical commerce. And the President wanted to make it absolutely clear that under the Article XVI supreme national interest provision of the treaty, that we would, in fact, withdraw from the Convention if it was our determination in those three categories that he identified in his letter that the Convention was not getting the job done.
And I think the Majority Leader indicated he felt that was a very significant comment by the President, and the President meant it to be.
Q Does the White House now think that Lott will vote for it and the treaty will pass?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on the Majority Leader's views. He'll -- as he indicated, he'll state it appropriately at the time that he chooses.
Q Has he told you what he's going to do?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had ongoing conversations with the Majority Leader; even today I think Mr. Berger has been in touch with him. Sandy has not only been talking to our team that's on the Hill that's been available to senators, but he's had some individual conversations himself with various senators and I expect the President will be making some phone calls this afternoon, too.
Q You mentioned a half a dozen senators are there --
Q -- going to call Lott?
MR. MCCURRY: Hold on.
Q You mentioned that he would call a half a dozen senators. Do you think those are the only votes that you can sway or the only ones you need, or --
Q Is Lott one of them?
Q And is Lott one of them?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are the ones where we believe the President's direct intervention would be helpful.
Q Is Lott one of them?
Q Is Lott one of them?
Q Do you anticipate we'll see the President this evening after the vote? What's your intention once the vote is taken?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to promise it. I think the President would like to, but we'll see what hour that might be before we make a decision.
Q Is Senator Lott one of the ones that he'll be calling?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to identify the individual senators.
Q How unusual is it, according to your view, for a President to attempt to sell ratification of a treaty by indicating the circumstances under which you would abrogate it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not unprecedented. We, in fact, did much the same with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last year. Correct, David? I think we have indicated in the past circumstances under which we would be forced to exercise our national interest right under a convention or a treaty to withdraw.
But it is important, the President felt, to make absolutely clear that we take very seriously the nonproliferation commitment that we and the world community make in this Convention. If there's anything working to the detriment of that commitment to nonproliferation, we would act to withdraw from the treaty. And the President was -- felt very comfortable and felt very warranted making that assurance to the Majority Leader.
Q Mike, wouldn't any President abrogate any treaty that became adverse to the national interest?
MR. MCCURRY: I would expect so, of course. And that's one of the reasons why provisions in most international documents exist like Article XVI in this Convention.
Q Aside from the written communications this morning to Senator Lott, has President Clinton written assurances to any other senator with whom he's communicated?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we've sent any specific communication to any other senators. We've talked through -- we've got a list of 28 conditions that have been mutually negotiated and the President's talked through some of those with individual senators who had particular questions about some of them. But I'm not aware that we've sent any documentation.
Q Did he ask Senator Dole to make any calls or to work his contacts at all? And do you think that Senator Dole's announcement yesterday had an impact?
MR. MCCURRY: I think Senator Dole made a very important argument yesterday and an important contribution to this debate by saying that some of the concerns that he had last fall had been appropriately and adequately addressed by the conditions that had been arrived at mutually by the Senate and by the administration. And we understand that has been significant. It has affected some thinking on the Hill, and we're pleased that Senator Dole was able to participate yesterday. And you should really check with him. My understanding is he has been available to some senators to review the issue from his perspective.
I'm also hearing from our folks on the Hill that the President's letter released by the Majority Leader this morning has had some impact as well.
Q Mike, can you give us some incite on just what he's telling these individual senators? Is he addressing their specific concerns, and also, is he cutting any deals on any issues that they -- other issues that they may be interested in to get their vote?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go into the substance of private conversations, but he's making the argument that we've been making publicly on some of the very specific concerns that have been raised here. On the issue -- I think a lot of the conversations are dealing with some of the five so-called killer provisions that are going to be debated and voted on in the Senate this afternoon, and he's specifically been making the argument about our strong views on some of those provisions.
Q Could you go into some of the implications of ratification for the President's ability to push for further arms control agreements, and just his general foreign policy agenda -- how important is it that this treaty be approved for those two things?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is a significant vote in that it's the first major foreign policy issue to come before the Senate in the President's second term. It's a moment at which the President feels and has said to the members of Congress, we need to restore some sense of bipartisanship as America faces the challenges we face in the world, and that surely the ratification of this treaty, demonstrating that Republican Presidents, going back to President Reagan, can work with Democratic Congresses and Republican Congresses to achieve a bipartisan result when it comes to protecting this nation's interest -- in this case particularly, on an arms control matter.
I think that would bode well for the future of bipartisan progress on other issues in which we are advancing America's interests in the world. And the President, for that reason among many reasons, considers this a very serious vote that the Senate is taking.
Q Does it strengthen his hand as he begins these very high visibility foreign trips, where a lot of these trips are going to involve further agreements -- not just arms control, but fast track with Latin America, G-7, et cetera?
MR. MCCURRY: We have an ambitious foreign policy agenda that will proceed one way or another. But I think it does send a powerful message around the world when they see the lineup that we had yesterday, when they see the impressive support that President Clinton has received from President Bush and from others in the Reagan administration on this particular issue, when they see the lineup of officials who were here yesterday speaking together from both sides of the aisle about America's national security interests. And so I think that does have an impact. But we've got work to do in this world, and that work will continue irrespective of the vote tonight. But, surely, it does send a powerful message when the rest of the world sees the United States coming together in a bipartisan way to protect our own national interests.
Q What, if any, impact would it have on domestic issues, bipartisan cooperation on the budget, for example?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think anytime you demonstrate that Republicans and Democrats can work together, whether it's from the executive branch working with Congress, or whether it's Republicans and Democrats working together on Capitol Hill, that does create more confidence that you can do so on other issues as well. And obviously, the next big question we face is whether we can achieve that same type of bipartisanship when it comes to balancing the budget. And there's a great deal of work going on on that score at this moment, too.
Q Mike, did Lott ask for the letter?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to go back and forth between them. I think -- or coming from the conversations that were held. The assurances that the President has extended in this letter were clearly designed to be helpful, and the President was willing to extend the assurance.
Q It's accurate that the pledge the President makes in the letter is not binding on any future President, right?
MR. MCCURRY: The letter -- to quote the letter directly, it's President Clinton's own personal commitment to the Majority Leader saying that he, President Clinton, would act consistent with Article XVI if the extraordinary events that he foresees in the letter came about.
Now, one thing I should point out about that letter, it's also -- you should note that he also reports to the Majority Leader that we've had good contact with the so-called Australia Group, which is the international body that monitors some of the international commerce in chemical products, and that other countries that we work with on proliferation issues with respect to chemical weapons and chemical weapons precursors, share our interpretation of the treaty. I think that's -- I don't want people to neglect to see the significance of that statement as well.
Q Mike, on the budget, a number of Democrats were saying today that they are in favor of separating tax cuts from the rest of the budget equation. What is the White House view on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Our view is -- we've said all along that there are different ways you can approach balancing the budget, different ways you can sequence some of the things that we want to get done within the context of structuring our fiscal affairs for the years ahead. And other administration officials have indicated in the past that we would be open to a discussion of sequencing tax relief votes if we put them off at a time later than a vote on a balanced budget agreement. But that all has to fit within the contours of getting the agreement that would balance the budget.
Q But if you say you're open to it -- where does the impetus have to come for that to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the impetus --
Q I mean, you're not pushing -- the White House is not going to push it then?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. We are strongly advocating the President's balanced budget plan, which includes tax relief targeted at the middle income for the purposes specifically of educational opportunities, that will grow the economy, and protecting families. And we have been all along, and we believe that tax relief fits within the contours of a balanced budget. But there are lots of issues that have to be discussed as part of a balanced budget negotiation and there's a need for us to be flexible and to be open to the arguments that some do make on the Hill that tax relief ought to be sequenced somewhat different from the specific types of spending cuts that would get you a balanced budget. And we understand that argument and respect those who make it.
Q Mike, to return to chemical weapons for a moment. One of the key moments in this saga was when Senator Helms let it out of committee. Can you say what was the turning point there, what the administration did to convince Senator Helms to let it out of committee?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't say specifically or speak for Chairman Helms on how he came to that point, but I can say that one thing we have consistently done throughout the last several months is to consult very closely with members of Congress, to keep a dialogue open. I think everyone is aware that Secretary Albright especially has been very attentive to the concerns and views of Chairman Helms, and that's -- in an era in which we are fostering a bipartisan approach to foreign policy concerns, that's a good way to do business. And perhaps that had some influence on Chairman Helms.
Q Mike, on the budget, a number of senators at the stakeout were saying that the talks aren't going very well because, frankly, the Republicans are expecting you guys to do all the conceding.
MR. MCCURRY: I think there are a number of Democratic senators that have that view, yes.
Q Do you share that view? I mean, would you like to see some more concessions?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we feel like we are having good discussions with those who are working on with -- on these budget issues. I think that they approach these conversations with the same ultimate objective that the President has, which is getting a balanced budget. But there are different views on how you go about doing that. And we have tried to keep the politics of the budget process at a minimum as we work in some spirit of consensus building to get an agreement.
Q When is the time for President Clinton and Senator Lott to join in these actual budget talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I -- they talk regularly and often. But we've indicated that the work that's going on now ought to be done by the budget experts from the Hill and the budget team down here at the White House.
Q Is Tuesday too early?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- we'll see where we go as the conversations continue later this week and perhaps into next week.
Q The Medicare trustees are releasing their annual report on the health of the Medicare Trust Fund. What, if anything, should this report suggest to the budget negotiators on how they should impose additional savings in Medicare?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think that among others things the report of the trustees will confirm something the President has suggested -- that we need to act now to extent the solvency of the Trust Fund into the next century. And, of course, the President's budget proposal does exactly that. And I believe it's fair to say that one of the goals of budget negotiators, whether they're from the Republican side or from our side or from the Democratic side on the Hill, is to preserve and strengthen Medicare. And that's a key feature of our balanced budget plan.
The actuaries from the health care financing administration estimate that the President's budget savings in Medicare extend the solvency of the trust fund out into the next century. I think it's close to a decade or sometime early -- sometime well into the next century. And that has to be a future, in the President's view, of any balanced budget plan.
The President told the Democrats from the Senate today that preserving and strengthening Medicare, extending the solvency of the Trust Fund, protecting our environment, expanding health care coverage for kids, and building a world class educational system with additional investments will be benchmarks for him as he continues these discussions.
Q Mike, the President today endorsed again ENDA. The legislation has a few exemptions, such as for small businesses. Would the President be open or support an exemption for religious organizations or religious based groups -- folks who might have a problem with the legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that ENDA does exempt religious organizations, including educational institutions that are substantially controlled or supported by religious organizations. That's my understanding of the legislation.
Q It has to be supported by -- that's the language of the pending -- to introduce next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that that's included in the legislation that will be offered by the congressional sponsors who were here today. That's my understanding.
Q Mike, can you tell us if the White House has complied with all the subpoenas it's received from Ken Starr's investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not certain whether the White House has gotten specific -- I'd have to check on whether we've had specific subpoena requests. I'm not aware of any that we have not cooperated with.
Q And can you explain the question that came up yesterday -- the reticence to say that you will not invoke executive privilege in the Whitewater case when the President has said that in the campaign finance situation, yet is pledging full cooperation on both?
MR. MCCURRY: He said that with respect to campaign finance, and he certainly is doing everything possible to be cooperative with Mr. Starr's proceeding.
Q Mike, on the Hashimoto visit, Japan has said that it won't adopt any of the sanctions against Burma, and the issue is supposed to come up in talks. What specifically will the President ask Hashimoto about the Burma sanctions? And will he press him?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he'll ask anything in particular. We know the views of the Japanese government on that matter. I think we will review if that issue does arise, and it may, although I don't know that it's going to much of a focus of their discussion. But if it does, the President will certainly outline our views with respect to the sanctions measures that we've invoked.
Q And also on North Korea, will he also be pressing Japan just to offer some of its rice stocks to North Korea for famine aid?
MR. MCCURRY: We will -- we may review that matter. I mean, I can tell you a little more generally, a couple of people wanted to have a general review of that bilateral meeting. North Korea -- the status of the Korean Peninsula will certainly be on the agenda, but I think most of the discussion with respect to Korea will focus on the effort we're making to advance the President's four party talks initiative. We'll discuss the situation in the North. The Japanese government in the past, as has the American government, has responded to requests from the World Food Program for a donation of food. They might discuss the humanitarian needs of the North, but I suspect most of the conversation with respect to Korea will focus in on the issue of the four party talks and the supportive role that we would like the government of Japan to play in advancing our diplomatic objective.
Q But Mike, the two issues, the food aid and the four-party talks, have been explicitly linked if not by the United States, at least by North Korea. They've been holding out for additional food aid. The United States recently has announced additional food aid. But Japan has held out conspicuously. Would the United States have it in mind to put some pressure on Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think, as you know, we have not linked these two issues. We've said, we will respond to the humanitarian needs of the North and respond to the request coming from the international entities that try to provide humanitarian aid. And we see that as a responsibility that is separate from advancing our diplomatic objectives with respect to a peaceful settlement of the tensions on the Peninsula. So we don't draw that linkage. And we don't suggest to other countries how they should respond to requests from the World Food Program, although we hope that our response encourages other to be helpful as well.
Q Mike, we're seeing today with the chemical weapons vote what happens when a President really throws his weight behind an issue -- the culmination of a campaign. Is this what he really had to do with ENDA? And he's saying he's still really for it, but we've never seen that kind of a --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, we advance all of our different legislative priorities in different fashions. I don't want to equate these two because we're not at a moment yet in which we've got any assurance that these matters will come to the floor. Certainly, Chairman Jeffords sponsorship of the legislation indicates that it's likely to at least get committee action in the Senate. It's hard to predict what will happen in the House. But it will be up to the Republican leadership to make decisions related to scheduling. We don't schedule floor activity in either the House or the Senate obviously. And if this measure ever got to the Senate floor as it did last year, we would be in a position to work the issue as hard as we did last year when it came so close.
Q He's really only go to put effort into it if it gets out of committee?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will certainly encourage Congress to take the measure up and to consider it, but we can't control the schedule on the House floor or the Senate floor.
Q This morning, Attorney General Reno said that she hoped the White House would soon name appointees for so many of the top Justice Department offices that are still empty. Why is it taking so long? And when will the President name some of those key assistant attorney generals?
MR. MCCURRY: Soon, and because we want to make sure we have superbly qualified candidates who pass muster.
Q Are you vetting ones down? Has the President looked at lists?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a lot of good recommendations and a lot of people in advanced states of consideration.
Q Back on Hashimoto just for a moment. How concerned is the United States that its trade deficit with Japan is starting to go back to where it used to be again -- and is the President planning on raising it with the Prime Minister?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do -- I think there's enough interest in the President's very important meeting with Prime Minister Hashimoto tomorrow that I'll do a little preview.
Looking back over four years, the status of this relationship has certainly improved and strengthened. Trade issues no longer dominate the relationship, no longer provide sources of friction and tension. Although, there are always issues that have to be discussed with respect to trade and economic matters. But as a general proposition, we have really revitalized this partnership with respect to our cooperation on security issues, with respect to working together on regional and international issues, some of which I've just mentioned. And we've now advanced through the framework agreement a really deliberate process for resolving some of our trade disputes. So that's very positive.
Now, as to Prime Minister Hashimoto, he has been an exceedingly effective manager of this relationship. He has committed himself in really a very personal way to building strong personal relationships with senior U.S. officials and, of course, most importantly, with the President himself, and has devoted great care and attention to advancing his country's interests within the context of our bilateral work.
I suspect tomorrow that the agenda will have a lot of things on it. There are some questions now in Japan about the U.S. military presence in Japan -- specifically with respect to Okinawa. That certainly will be an issue. They will talk at some length about Korea because we are at an important moment in advancing our diplomacy with respect to bringing an end to the conflict between the North and the South.
And there will be some discussion of Japan's current account balance and the importance of continuing those market access enhancements that we think have led to progress over time in recent months on the current account adjustments that lead to a better trade picture overall. Now, we've seen some fluctuation in numbers, and numbers do fluctuate. The important thing is to see if we can't talk together about how to deepen and nurture those trade commitments that both sides have that would lead to an improved trade picture over time.
A couple of other specific things -- in the security area, we certainly will reaffirm the importance of that joint security declaration that both governments made last April when the President was in Tokyo. The President will thank Prime Minister Hashimoto for the very strong personal and political leadership he just demonstrated recently in passing legislation on the sensitive issue of Okinawa land leases. And the President will also urge implementation of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa final report, the SACO final report.
In the economic area, the President intends to compliment the Prime Minister on his leadership in tackling a very tough and ambitious economic reform agenda. Again, this is an area where the Prime Minister has taken some political risk to advance economic change in Japan that will be good for the people of Japan in the long run and will be good for Japan's position in the international marketplace.
The President will, again, stress the importance of making progress on the current account adjustments so that we can maintain the progress we've seen on trade. And we will also support some of the efforts the Prime Minister has underway on deregulation, things that will, we believe, enhance market access over time.
On regional and international issues, we'll talk about China and talk about the importance of our policy of constructive engagement. The President will review the exchange of high-level visits that we have had. We'll talk about Korea, again, I've mentioned several times, things that we can do together to really continue to nurture a process that we think can lead ultimately to some resolution of the conflict. And they will then, of course, preview the Denver Summit of the 8, and the President will seek the Prime Minister's views on what they will be doing in Denver in June. They'll talk about U.S.-Russia relations, the status of some of the issues that we're working on with President Yeltsin. The President will review his summit in Helsinki with President Yeltsin and discuss such other issues that may arise.
Q Mike, what more does the President want Japan to be doing in the four-party talks?
MR. MCCURRY: We think they have -- they have a number of ways that they can be helpful diplomatically through their own bilateral contacts. They are very centrally involved in the provision of light-water reactor technology to the North, which is a key feature of the agreed framework reached in Geneva in 1994. And our cooperation together, within the entity known as KEDO, has been a very important way in which we have kept the North Korean nuclear program frozen and keep them moving towards certain benchmarks on international safeguards with respect to their dormant nuclear program that we consider important.
Q Is there something new that he is going to be asking in light of the talks not getting --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have some specific ideas of specific things we can do, but I think I'll save that for the President and the Prime Minister.
Q Is the U.S. concern over the Japanese current account surplus, is that so detailed that we're talking about numbers with them, because there were reports that the U.S. has warned Japan that the U.S. would be annoyed if the current account surplus rose about 2.5 percent of GDP?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't expect the President and the Prime Minister to have that type of green-eyeshade conversation. Now, the Secretary of the Treasury was there recently, but I think they will take a more strategic -- the President and Prime Minister will take a more strategic approach and look at the bigger picture of how we can make progress generally on our trade issues and how the United States will reflect a little bit about those things that we think are important as Japan considers the status of its own domestic economy that could build consumer demand for products that Japan would import.
Q Mike, are you apt to have an ambassador to Japan by tomorrow? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q On another topic, the FDR memorial -- why did it take the President until the 11th hour to announce his decision to push this legislation to modify the memorial? The timing seems to indicate that he just wanted to pacify protestors who might interrupt his dedication speech.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that would be an unfortunate judgment that would be incorrect. He's been -- we've been working this issue for a long time and, because it does require an act of Congress to modify the design of the memorial, it was important to work very closely with Congress and we appreciate the leadership that Senator Inouye has shown on this issue. And sometimes it takes hard work and the right amount of time to arrive at the right kind of solution.
Q But this controversy has been going for months and months and years.
MR. MCCURRY: It's been going for years.
Q And if the President really felt, as he indicated in the statement yesterday, that it was so important to portray FDR in this way, why couldn't he have seized the initiative long ago?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he did seize the initiative --
Q -- talked to the Hill every day.
MR. MCCURRY: Leo, he seized the initiative some time ago in beginning to work the issue and work out an amicable resolution with people who had, for a long time, had strong views on this matter. It takes --
Q When did the negotiations with Inouye begin?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. To my knowledge, weeks if not months ago.
Q Going back to Hashimoto, clearly the foreign exchange initiative affects the trade balance. Will that be addressed at the presidential-Prime Minister level or is the exchange rate something that's handled elsewhere?
MR. MCCURRY: I just -- I don't comment on exchange rates.
Q I believe the White House recently sent some more campaign finance documents up to Capitol Hill. Is there a reason why those have not been released to the media? Will they be?
MR. MCCURRY: We have sent documents and information up to the Hill almost regularly, and from time to time release some of it. We've had a very good working relationship with the Senate. We've provided an enormous amount of material to the Senate committee. And we have an arrangement and an arrived-at protocol for dealing with those materials that was satisfactorily worked out with Senator Thompson and Senator Glenn. Unfortunately, we haven't arrived at the same kind of arrangement with Chairman Burton, but we certainly would remain in discussion with him about doing so.
From time to time, we will release some documents. There may be, from time to time, some documents that the committees are going to release depending on what they do under whatever established procedures they have.
Q Are there some in that category now, that you're about to release?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. I think we, from time to time, roll out a dump truck and throw some stuff out, and we would do that -- we won't be doing that anytime this week. I wouldn't worry about that.
Q Do you anticipate another meeting at the White House between the tobacco companies and those who would settle with them?
MR. MCCURRY: Between the companies and Mr. Lindsey? He saw some of the parties yesterday. I'm not aware that any of the industry representatives have come here.
Q Well, some of their lawyers were here.
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't hear that. I know that there some people from parties associated with the discussions that were here yesterday, but not to my knowledge were they from the industry reps.
Q Attorneys for the lawyers?
Q You might want to double-check that.
Q Yes, double-check that.
MR. MCCURRY: But if so, it wouldn't matter. I would assume that Mr. Lindsey is staying in contact with all the parties because they are indicating various things publicly about what they're planning to do, and he's been talking to all of them regularly anyhow. So they may come in here from time to time. He may talk to them on the phone. We have contact with them just to understand better what they're up to.
Q I know that the White House position is that it's not taking a position, but is it not encouraging both sides to reach a settlement in which, while there may be --
MR. MCCURRY: We are encouraging them to do one thing -- to help us prevent kids from smoking. That's it. That's the only aspect to this that involves the White House role. We're monitoring their discussions so we can protect our interests in a public health outcome that is very certain, which we want to achieve the reduction in tobacco use by young people foreseen by the FDA rule-making process.
Q But doesn't the White House have some view on how much liability the agreement should allow for?
MR. MCCURRY: We have no view on that. We know that there are different ways you could approach the question of immunity, but we take no position one way or another on the various ideas the parties have.
Q Mike, if all you care about is preventing kids from smoking, then why shouldn't we assume that you would endorse any deal that they come up with, as long as it takes care of the advertising restrictions and some kind of the fund and the things you've already laid out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would want to protect the integrity of our public health policy. We wouldn't want to embrace something that had other aspects or features to it that were manifestly against the national interest. So we'd want to see what it is. And that's one of the reasons why Bruce has maintained contact with the parties, just to understand better what they are --what they themselves are talking about. But we are moving ahead with the implementation of our rule and --
Q Protecting people -- protecting the right of people to recover damages from tobacco companies also --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, there will have to be. We have very clear views that you can't provide blanket immunity that would shut off people's rights to seek redress. Now, there are different ways in which you might address a question of limited immunity, but we're listening to what the parties have to say on that.
Q Speaking of the integrity of the public health policy, how does the President feel about the Veterans Administration's view that it will not be liable for any veterans' smoking-related health problems when, for years, the Armed Services, if not encouraged, then helped people to smoke by passing out cigarettes?
MR. MCCURRY: You have to ask the VA where they are on that. My understanding is, they have not sent anything over here to OMB for final clearance, so I don't think we have looked at what --
Q They've said it publicly.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know that that reflects our views. We haven't seen anything from them that we would look at as a final position on that issue.
Q Just one more on Hashimoto. When the President and the Prime Minister get together, you mentioned the desire for increased consumer demand and growth in Japan as a way of lowering the trade deficit. Does the President plan to make specific suggestions to Hashimoto on how to do that, or is he just going to suggest in a general way that it ought to be done?
MR. MCCURRY: Prime Minister Hashimoto has shown a great deal of courage in the way he has approached the management of the national economy and specific reforms that he has undertaken. I don't think the President would be so presumptuous as to tell the Prime Minister how to address the economic affairs of his own nation.
The President will say that our belief is it is in the interests of both the people of Japan and the United States to see an economy that is growing, to see demand increase for products that come from the United States. We will reflect on the progress we've made, for example, on the auto sector. We've increased auto sales from the Big Three to Japan by a third over last year. So that's the kind of progress that we want to see, and we'd certainly be interested in the Prime Minister's views of how we can create that type of economic environment.
Q Mike, back to the tobacco negotiations. When you say the White House's only objective is to protect kids from smoking, but in order to do that, you wouldn't throw away the FDA's jurisdiction to regulate tobacco as an addictive drug. Isn't that the underpinning for your rule-making to protect kids?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's the underpinning of our rule-making, but we have always suggested that it would somehow or other legislate that so it becomes a matter of federal law and not a matter of federal rule-making that is then subject to litigation. As you all know, we probably will have some action in court tomorrow that goes right at the premise, because the industry has attacked the jurisdiction the FDA has asserted. And rather than have that issue tied up in court, we would, in fact, prefer to see some type of legislative outcome.
Q -- if you were to get an adverse ruling tomorrow, wouldn't you immediately request a stay?
MR. MCCURRY: Did he see him yesterday is the question?
MS. GLYNN: Yes, yesterday.
MR. MCCURRY: Today -- he's had no meetings with tobacco parties today.
Q I thought -- was yesterday -- I'm sorry.
MR. MCCURRY: And then, did he see the industry people yesterday is the question.
Q My question was, if you got from the judge tomorrow and adverse ruling --
MR. MCCURRY: Hold on --
Q Could we clear up this tobacco thing --
MR. MCCURRY: Mary Ellen, can you help me out here? Bruce has had no meetings with tobacco parties today, and the question is he had meetings with the parties yesterday, and I don't know whether he met with the industry or not.
MS. GLYNN: Yesterday, absolutely. As I confirmed to many of you, he had meetings with a bunch of tobacco folks yesterday, including Mike Moore.
MR. MCCURRY: He saw Mike Moore, the Attorney General of Mississippi. The question, Mary Ellen, is did he see representatives of the tobacco companies yesterday.
MS. GLYNN: There were people from both sides of the issue -- everybody was in the same room. It was about six people.
Q Can I just get an answer to my question -- which was, if you get an adverse ruling tomorrow from the judge, wouldn't the administration, in the absence of --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on -- I'm not going to speculate on what the court might decide, but we'll be prepared to talk about that tomorrow.
Q Getting back to the issue that Bill Plante raised -- I'm a little confused. What is your interpretation of the status on what they're --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have an interpretation because it has not been sent here for review by the White House. That's my understanding.
MR. TOIV: There is no VA proposal.
MR. MCCURRY: There is no VA proposal at this point.
Q It sounded like you were signaling that they should not even send such a proposal.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I wasn't. They've got some -- they've had, apparently, some discussion of this issue there, but it has not come here for review yet. So I don't want to comment on it.
Q Yesterday's meeting, which apparently included Hugh Rodham, who drew up that guest list? Who chose to have Mr. Rodham present as opposed to any of the dozens of --
MR. MCCURRY: The party that retained Mr. Rodham is the one that chose him, and you can --
Q What I'm asking is, did Bruce Lindsey invite specific people, or who chose the people who were present yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: The group that has been working this issue and has been working it for quite some time now has been established by the parties themselves, and Mr. Lindsey has been in contact with them on and off.
Q Back to Japan. The Okinawa police arrested an Air Force sergeant yesterday for breaking and entering and indecent exposure. Is the President aware of this and does it concern him that there are repeated problems with our forces there?
MR. MCCURRY: It certainly does concern him greatly. Now, we understand that there's an investigation in that particular incident and so I can't -- I have to restrict my comments. Obviously, the United States government has extended -- and the President himself on occasion has extended a great deal of sympathy to those of you who are victims of any incident of this nature. It's abhorrent. And the Secretary of Defense has indicated they are working aggressively to try to deal with that because our presence, forward deployed presence in Okinawa, has to be in the context of a great deal of sensitivity to the local concerns there. And obviously, any commission of crime by any U.S. personnel is completely and utterly intolerable.
We have worked that issue with the Japanese government, worked ways in which we cooperate in the investigation of incidents like that, and that's -- my understanding is that's going on in this incident as well.
Q I think France has announced today that they have completed a trade agreement with Cuba. Does the U.S. have a reaction to this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would need to know more about the details of that. We've seen some of the reports indicating that that's the case and I'm not prepared to comment until we know more about it.
Q On China, Senators Mack and Lieberman are discussing legislation that would delay for three months the most favored nation trade status decision by the White House. I was wondering what you think about that.
MR. MCCURRY: You mean they would legislate some change in the annual Jackson-Vanik review deadline and push it until later?
MR. MCCURRY: We'd have to know more about that. I would not categorically reject that until we knew more about it.
Q On ENDA, if this is such a high priority of his, why a written statement rather than any kind of an in-person kind of comment that would --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that was really more a question of news value. The President's support for this legislation he announced in October of last year -- excuse me, October of 1995. So, he has been on record for some time. I think, frankly, we just wanted to recommit the President's support as the legislation itself was being reintroduced. And as it -- we hope, as it moves through the legislative process on the Hill, we'll have opportunities to address it in the future.
Q Mike, in terms of Hugh Rodham, there's been a lot of sensitivity in the past administrations about the role of relatives -- close relatives as lobbyists. Can you think of any past instance where a brother or a brother-in-law of the First Family actually met with staff involving a financial matter? I mean, it seems to be it's unprecedented --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't been here through a previous administration. Maybe some of the other people who have been here in previous administrations can help you.
Q Mike, but in that context, if we can't think of any immediate precedence, is there no concern at all about the propriety of this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he -- look, members of the President's family have a right to earn a living and have employment and carry out their occupations. I don't know that people would want to restrict that. And we are all sensitive, of course, to making sure that that doesn't cross over. But in this case, he has been retained by one of the parties in this matter, and it's perfectly appropriate for him to participate in discussions related to the client that he represents.
Q But his ability to make money off of this deal depends on the President approving it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's --
Q You just said yourself, it would be the only way to get --
MR. MCCURRY: That's true --
Q -- past the Congress --
MR. MCCURRY: That's true of anyone in the plaintiff's bar. And the President knows a great number of people in the plaintiff's bar, obviously.
Q On North Korea, wire reports are saying that North Korea says it will not continue negotiations with South Korea to normalize the relationship unless relationships with the United States are normalized first. I mean, it's reversing the pattern earlier. What is the administration's view on this latest development?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are involved in an active dialogue right now with the DPRK on issues related to the future of the dialogue we'd like to pursue in a four party framework. I'm not going to comment on their presentation of what they would consider their conditions because that's something that we would have address in the context of the dialogue we've had underway in New York that we hope will resume at some appropriate point. But we will be prepared, in close consultation with the Republic of Korea, to address the concerns that have been raised by the North. And we will see if there isn't some mutually satisfactory way to advance our goal, which is a dialogue that would bring some measure of resolution to the conflict on the Peninsula.
Q -- the Senate Democrats just came out of a budget meeting today and indicated at least some flexibility on Medicare savings. Does the White House share that willingness to perhaps consider deeper cuts? They said the debate shouldn't be about numbers so much as quality of care.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think that -- I mean, there are two ways of looking at this. At one point, the discussions have to be about numbers because that's the only way you're going to get to an agreement. But as a general proposition, the President agrees with those Senate Democrats that stress the importance of preserving Medicare, protecting the environment, making investments in education, protecting the health care needs of kids, and specifically expanding health care coverage for kids.
And I think the debate today was, let's not lose sight of the important principles that are at stake as we proceed with these discussions. But ultimately, that has to be translated into numbers. And that -- if we get an agreement, that's what will happen.
Q Mike, did the President know anything about the Riady family's efforts to buy a bank in California during the campaign? And what does he think about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I haven't had time to really talk to him about the article. The article is apparently about the Lippo's Group's interest in buying a bank and it didn't happen. That's as near as I can figure.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:10 P.M. EDT