THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: What is on our minds today?
MR. MCCURRY: Budget. What would you like to know about the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Would you like the secret budget deal I hear?
Q We know you've got a deal working.
MR. MCCURRY: A lot of hard work left. The President had some discussions with his budget team, and there will be further conversations on the Hill today involving some members of our staff; some of our budget negotiators as well as the Chief of Staff, Mr. Bowles, who will be on the Hill, will meet with House Democrats -- I believe Senate Democrats as well. I wouldn't rule out meetings with Republicans among some of our budget negotiators in the coming days. And we'll just have to see how those conversations go. It's impossible to predict at this point.
Q Mike, what do you make of Senator Domenici apparently being surprised by Senator Lott's comments about the COLA. that it's too late for a COLA decrease?
MR. MCCURRY: That as is the case sometimes on our side, not everyone is always necessarily on the same page at the same time. That happens.
Q And how does that affect your thoughts in terms of as you're approaching --
MR. MCCURRY: It doesn't affect our view on the underlying issue which is the adjustment made for inflation. The President's view on that has remained rock solid; it ought to be done technically correctly. There are some things the BLS is looking at and can do and conceivably could do this year, and whatever correct technical adjustment based on the merits, whatever the adjustment made it will have some budgetary impact, but then has to be factored into budget considerations. Same view that we've always had.
Q Are you saying that the BLS could act unilaterally without doing something with Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: They could make some -- they have some administrative ability to make adjustments. In fact, it just didn't get noticed very much, they just introduced an experimental CPI measurement, I think last week or two weeks ago. So they do have some administrative ability to adjust the way they calculate the Consumer Price Index, but they certainly can't get of the magnitude that many on the Hill and others talk about as the estimated size of the over estimate of the impact of inflation.
Q But could that be some sort of interim step as you see it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- not in the context of budget discussions. They make adjustments as they go along based on the technical measurement of inflation.
Q Mike, can you define what you see as maybe the several broad areas where there are the biggest differences right now?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to negotiate standing here at the podium.
Q Speaker Gingrich today became just the latest Republican leader to mention the possibility of a budget deal this week. Why are the Republicans talking about the possibility of a budget deal and you're saying it's impossible to predict?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I'm more cautious and prudent than others. I recall someone yesterday saying we could get one in two days or two months or so on and so forth.
Q Well, it sounds like you've got something going that you want to sound out with the Democrats.
MR. MCCURRY: There's a reason why she's been so effective on this beat for so long, isn't there?
Q And when you're playing your cards so close to the chest --
MR. MCCURRY: You might actually get a balanced budget agreement, which would be a good thing. And we'd still say, hip, hip, hurray.
Q You've got something up your sleeve. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, obviously, the discussions are at a point where they have to -- they are engaging with the other side. They've got to get serious, and they have to see where they go. And it's important to us, of course, to share our thoughts closely with our friends on the Hill and to hear their thoughts and views. It goes without saying.
Q And to what extent is Dick Morris playing a role in these budget negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: Not -- as near as I can tell, none whatsoever.
Q Is the President talking with Dick Morris?
MR. MCCURRY: He talks to him from time to time, as I've told you from time to time.
Q Why does the President feel it's still important to talk to Dick Morris?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he thinks that it's important, he just -- he's a guy he's known a long time, and he chats with him from time to time. Although, I can't find anyone who believes the President has talked to him anytime fairly recently.
Q Dick Morris says he's had a "bunch of conversations" with the President and with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott over the past few weeks.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm well aware of his capacity to get many of you to breathlessly report on his comings and goings. I imagine that suits his purposes quite nicely.
Q He'd like everyone to believe he's some kind of intermediary?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know what he would like people to believe. I noticed he's very careful about what he says, and he doesn't -- he says he's not negotiating, he's not -- he doesn't need to be -- Bill Clinton and Trent Lott don't need an intermediary by this point. They talk to each other more than most people talk to their parents. (Laughter.) More than I talk to my parents, come to think of it. (Laughter.)
Q Why is he talking to him at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Because he's known him for a long time, and he talks to him from time to time and occasionally he has an interesting idea.
Q There's a report that Chelsea Clinton has chosen Stanford as her university. Could you please, please confirm this?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I don't know that that's true. In fact, the last I had heard from the First Family, there hadn't been a decision on those quarters yet.
Q The presidential appointments for the Gambling Commission are sixth months overdue. What took so long?
MR. MCCURRY: It took a lot of time for the President to be comfortable that he had exactly the right people to take on a very important assignment, to measure the economic and the moral and the legal impact of legalized gambling on our society. He's had to take into account the appointments that were made by others, who had some authority to appoint, and then make sure that he has structured a commission that really does take into a variety of points of view.
As you know, two of the three nominees that the President has now put forward are more associated with the views that are skeptical about gambling. That represents a way in which the commission can have a wider and more diverse range of views as it approaches this task.
Q Does he have a chairman in mind?
MR. MCCURRY: He does not, and he does not appoint. Under the procedures of the commission, the commission will meet and elect a chair from the existing appointees. If they have some trouble doing that, then the President, the Speaker and the Majority Leader will weigh in. But we would imagine they would probably be able to elect a chair from those that have been appointed.
Q I'm sorry, Mike, did you characterize the views toward gambling of the three that were appointed to that?
MR. MCCURRY: They'll be looking at range of issues. Dick Leone, as Treasurer of New Jersey back in the '70s, was decidedly against legalized gambling in New Jersey. If I'm not mistaken, he either opposed the statewide initiative, or as a member of Governor Byrne's Cabinet, was against legalized gambling, and Atlantic City -- the group that he's now associated with, the 20th Century Fund, has printed some monographs that have been critical of legalized gambling in the past, although not during the time in which Dick was serving there. Mr. Loescher is a member of an Indian tribe in Alaska that has some state-approved bingo operations, but is not involved in any legalized gambling under the federal statute. He himself personally has anti-gambling convictions, although he recognizes that Native American tribes do have a right to pursue lawful activities under the federal act.
Q Mike, Leone was on record as opposed to the lottery, which isn't, obviously, an anti-gambling position.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, at the time in the 1970s the issue was legalized in Atlantic City. That was before the voters and before the state government in the 1970s. And he broke -- I believe it is accurate to say he broke, if my memory serves me correct, he broke with the Byrne administration over that policy.
Q Can you give us an update on the Alexis Herman confirmation situation and what you're doing to try to break that logjam?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been strongly urging the United States Senate to move forward with a nomination that was unanimously approved by the committee. There's no reason related to Alexis Herman that the confirmation has not occurred. The issue is a separate, unrelated issue. Senate Democrats feel strongly about that, strongly enough that they've indicated that they're going to be taking some action on the floor to try to unpry her nomination. We think that's warranted given the overall quality of the nominee.
Q You don't know -- there's no chance that you'll back off on that executive order that has made --
MR. MCCURRY: The President feels pretty strongly about his executive authorities, but we're certainly willing to discuss the issue with Chairman Nickels. We have been discussing the issue; we'll see if we can't find a way of resolving that issue. But that should not stand in the way of confirming a member of the President's Cabinet for a department that needs leadership, and the Secretary is ready to go to work and needs to go to work.
Q Mike, are you all still fighting the turnover of Sherburne's notes to Starr, and is this Newsweek story true that you all are going to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if there is such a proceeding, it's under seal and that means that I couldn't talk about it until such time as it is unsealed.
Q Well, do you believe that the President had an attorney-client relationship with her?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that the President is entitled to have attorney-client privileges attached to the work of White House counsel, and we have asserted that many times here and I think that's a generally recognized principle of law.
Q So you think that's the same as, say, him with his private attorney, the same relationship would hold?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the privilege is the privilege under the canon of ethics. The President and previous Presidents and most White Houses and most government lawyers believe that that privilege can attach to the work that government lawyers do on behalf of their agencies and their principals.
Q Mike, what happens when that privilege comes into conflict with the President's other stated goal of fully cooperating with the investigation? The President can clearly waive the privilege if he wanted to be completely and wholly cooperative.
MR. MCCURRY: Waiving attorney-client privilege is something that any American would think long and hard about doing. I'm not going to comment about any specific application of that privilege with respect to any specific matter.
Q Well, what about the notion of -- that these two are seemingly in conflict?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that they need to be in conflict. The President and the First Lady have answered all the questions that Mr. Starr has posed and continue to cooperate.
Q Mike, last Thursday, you were asked whether the White House was fighting any subpoena, and you said, I'm not aware of any that we have not cooperated with. Were you not aware of this --
MR. MCCURRY: I was not aware of the nature of any proceedings, if there were any such proceedings underway.
Q Are there any other such proceedings underway?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check.
Q Could you check? And could we try and get a definitive answer because it looks a little funny?
MR. MCCURRY: A definitive answer about what?
Q Whether there are any other such subpoenas that the White House has contested.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check and see. I'm not aware of any.
Q Congressman Burton took to the floor just a short time ago to denounce the White House and accuse the President of dilatory tactics in not responding completely to these subpoenas issued and served on the White House last week. Are you not giving him all the documents he wants, and why?
MR. MCCURRY: Mark, here's a quarter. Go tell him. Go call him. Tell him to come on down here, and he can look at any document he wants to. We've been telling him that repeatedly now for weeks. We were not holding anything back from him. We just don't want Chairman Burton or his staff investigators to pass documents out on the street corners that shouldn't properly be in the public domain. But they are available for his inspection; he knows that. I think he's having some fun with the issue.
Q Here's your change. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: That's only a nickel back. Now, you could balance the budget.
Q Is there a difference between the documents he wants and the ones you've been throwing at us?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of. We have given -- some of the documents he wants we have already given to the Senate and the Senate committee. We have arrangements in place to make sure that they are well handled. But Chairman Burton has been unable or unwilling, one or the other, to arrive at any satisfactory arrangement to protect documents that we think have some privacy considerations attached to it that ought to be protected for privacy reasons.
We have not asserted privilege over any document that he is seeking. We have said that we will gladly make any of those documents available for inspection; indeed, have invited him and his staff to come and review any document they want to see. It's not an issue of whether or not this is available to him, it's just that we want some safeguards in place to make sure that things aren't leaked that shouldn't be leaked.
Q Mike, would you characterize the Chairman's actions as grandstanding, just to nail it down?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but I know that many of you will want to. (Laughter.)
Q Any comment on the EU sending its ambassador back to Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: We will need to continue to have a critical dialogue with the European Union about their critical dialogue with Iran.
Q Can you give us any sort of readout on the visit here today by the Chinese Foreign Minister, and have you looked at what's likely to be on the agenda for tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He's -- the Deputy Premier Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, met with National Security Advisor Sandy Berger today for about 45 minutes. It was a good follow-up and review of the extensive meetings that the Foreign Minister had with Secretary Albright and her team yesterday at the State Department. They have obviously spent some time discussing both the Foreign Minister's meeting tomorrow with the President and also reviewing some of the underlying issues of his trip, principally the projected high-level exchange of visits later this year between President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin and then the review also of some of the issues on our bilateral relationship, including proliferations issues, human rights concerns, economic and trade issues and regional security issues, like Korea.
Q You said the Secretary of State indicated that when she met with the Minister, she also raised the political money issue to Mr. Berger and did that today, and does the President plan to raise it tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: By previous arrangement and discussion within our government, the Secretary raised that. I don't imagine in the time the President has tomorrow it will be raised. The Chinese government is very well aware and very recently aware of our strong views on the matter.
Q Mike, wouldn't this be a good time for the President to go to the Attorney General and get a fresh update on the status of the information on that issue, given that he's going to see the Deputy Prime Minister --
MR. MCCURRY: We're confident the Attorney General has made sure that any information that the President needs for conduct of foreign policy, including a meeting of this nature, has been provided.
Q In specifics, do you know if any such information has been provided recently as opposed to the old briefing that he got?
MR. MCCURRY: We get information here literally every hour of every day, so --
Q Has the President gotten information on the possibility that the Chinese government may have been involved in fundraising here?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and we've previously told you the circumstances under which we got information.
Q Mike, China sent three warships off the Spratly Islands in the Philippines. Did they discuss that? Did Berger discuss that with Qian Qichen?
MR. MCCURRY: According to my information, it didn't come up in the meeting with the National Security Advisor. I'd have to check and see if it came up at State.
Q Are you aware of the ships, and do you have a reaction to it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware that there's been some reports on that. I'd have to check further on specific
Q Do you have any information on the reports that the U.S. is considering sanctions against citizens in Mexico who are involved in narcotics trafficking?
MR. JOHNSON: I think we briefed on that yesterday.
MR. MCCURRY: I think I -- nothing beyond what I said yesterday on it.
Q Mike, what happened to Bill Weld?
MR. MCCURRY: Bill Weld -- he is a great guy and everything I said about him stands. I understand that if there's any formal announcement on it, it will come somewhat down the road after they complete some of the formal background processes.
Q And is Wendy -- the Vatican --
MR. MCCURRY: That one -- I haven't been leaking on that subject, so I don't know. (Applause.)
Q Mike, are you planning on briefing tomorrow or Thursday on the trip to Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: On Thursday.
Q Thursday? And who's going to be briefing?
MR. MCCURRY: A pantheon of administration experts. (Laughter.)
Q Can I just go back to the Gambling Commission appointments? I was under the impression that given the Gingrich and Lott appointments to this commission, that if the President really wanted a balanced, open-minded commission, he really had to tilt to the anti-gambling side. Does the President feel --
MR. MCCURRY: That's roughly correct and that's what we have done, in fact.
Q So you're satisfied that this is going to be a commission that can take an open, balanced view of all these issues?
MR. MCCURRY: We are confident that these members can fulfill the terms in which the commission was established -- to take a good, honest and thorough look at the status of legalized gambling and its impact on our society.
Q There have been some statements recently by anti-gambling advocates that the thing was already tilted so far to the pro-gambling side that unless Clinton came up with three anti-gambling people, the thing was a foregone conclusion. I guess you don't share in that view?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't share in that view in part because it makes the assumption that William Bible, who's the President's appointee from Nevada, is a pro-gambling advocate. He is, in fact, a regulator. He has a long history within Nevada state government of effectively regulating the industry. He's earned the respect of both sides in the debate and certainly of the industry itself that he regulates. But he approaches it from the perspective of one who regulates the industry, and not someone who is an advocate for the industry.
Q But you don't expect, for instance, a guy like Bible to come out and say, gambling is terribly sinful, very harmful to the social fabric, and ought to be abolished. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, but I suspect strongly that he will be able to speak with some authority and judge issues with some authority of what the measured impact of gambling is on a society and how it is effectively regulated and what the relevant issues are. He comes with a great deal of expertise. And I think he will certainly be open-minded an impartial in listening to the arguments that others advance, and certainly, there will be some arguments advanced.
Q Was he -- out on his views?
MR. MCCURRY: I think -- well, his views, such as they are known, are related to his work as a regulator and he came with very strong support from elected officials in the state, as did, by the way, all of the other appointees, too. Mr. Loescher is highly regarded in Alaska, was strongly recommended by the governor, the two senators, the congressman. Mr. Leone has strong support from Senator Bradley, Senator Lautenberg, Congressman Torricelli, among others. Former Governor Kean -- Senator Torricelli -- former Governor Kean, of course, appointed Dick Leone to the New York-New Jersey Port Authority where he played a very effective role managing a lot of difficult issues. And I think all these nominees have got the capacity to do good work when it comes to fulfilling the purposes of the commission.
Q The New York Times story on the -- review, I wonder if the President would consider changing the two war strategy of the military. Would he consider any plan that required a change in that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's precisely what they're doing the review for, to look at the issues related to the current war fighting strategy based on two MRC engagements. And they are -- those are essentially the issues that Secretary Cohen has to judge and look at. And the President will want to make sure that the assessment that's done is done in a way that really examines all the different options that exist for our force posture and our war fighting strategy and how they are then measured in size to make sure we can accomplish any mission task.
And that's what the Secretary of Defense briefed the President about last week when he was here, when I tried to get you interested in the subject. And he looks forward to the conclusion of the report next month.
Q But do I understand --
Q Does the Gambling Commission actually --
Q If I could follow -- do I understand --
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't preempt the Secretary of Defense's ability to make a decision based on the completion of the review. They're in the final stages of the review. It won't be released until next month. It then will undergo an expert review by the defense panel. It then gets submitted to the President and to the Congress, and it becomes the basis for further debate.
Q I thought I understood you to say, however, that the review is of the effectiveness of the military's ability to fight under the two war strategy.
MR. MCCURRY: No.
MR. MCCURRY: It's under it's -- it looks at a whole range of issues related to force posture and sizing as we look at all the different contingencies that exist in the world we live in and project ahead into the next century about what our needs for the force are, both in terms of personnel and equipment and modernization and how you balance out all those conflicting needs.
Q Does the commission need Senate confirmation of the three appointees today?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't believe so, because it's established by act of Congress. They need -- there's some paperwork that has to be finalized. They will now meet sometime within the next month to begin their work and then that starts the two year calendar for the completion of their work.
Q Mike, will Hong Kong and human rights be a major topic in the meeting tomorrow --
MR. MCCURRY: I should have mentioned that it was a subject of Secretary Albright's discussions yesterday -- did or did not come up?
MR. JOHNSON: Did.
MR. MCCURRY: Did come up right now with Mr. Berger. And I expect the President will want to touch on that subject tomorrow, as well.
Q How about human rights?
MR. MCCURRY: Human rights almost always in our dialogue does arise.
Q Since it took so long to appoint the commission will that July '98 deadline now be extended?
MR. MCCURRY: I think by statute it begins two years from the date of the first meeting.
Q Mike, can you tell us, first, is it the White House position that the President is fully cooperating, but also -- and that asserting attorney-client privilege is consistent with cooperating?
MR. MCCURRY: One has an attorney-client privilege and you can have it as you are fully cooperating, yes.
Q And, two, can you tell us how you became aware of the fact that they were resisting a subpoena and whether you feel you would have been properly -- basically you gave us a wrong answer.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, many, many months ago I was alerted by the Counsel's Office to the fact that there might be some litigation I ought to know about, but the nature of that litigation I didn't follow very carefully, and right now I'm handicapped because I can't tell you what it's about if there is such litigation. So don't put me in that impossible position. There may come a time, I hope soon, I can tell you more about it.
Q Is there a concern that Charlie Trie has fled the country here? I know The L.A. Times went pretty hard --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know where he is, so --
Q The L.A. Times went pretty hard that he still to this day remains on a White House panel that will, I suppose, issue a report tomorrow on the specifics. Has the President attempted to ask him to start cooperating?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not tried to find him, no. And if I saw the chair of that panel quoted correctly, he has not been an active participant in their deliberations.
Q Mike, getting back to the Consumer Price Index, you said there are some technical adjustments that the Bureau of Labor Statistics can make, and the AARP has indicated a willingness to perhaps accept some of those adjustments. Is that the position from which the White House will be negotiating? Because we're talking about a lot of billions of dollars in the end.
MR. MCCURRY: Our team does believe there are some things the BLS can do. How much, to what degree, I can't say. We're making the assumption only in the discussions that it is an open issue what the correct measurement of the effect of inflation is. And the adjustment in it, given everyone's consensus that it is overstated, is likely to be made, but the magnitude of that isn't possible to predict.
Q Mike, one other thing on the budget. Is this the last week in your view where the Republicans can still negotiate with the White House and keep their position from public view? Because next week the President is out of the country with top staff and they've already missed the April 15th deadline. Do you folks here in the White House see that this is the Republicans' last chance not to be put on the spot publicly?
MR. MCCURRY: I want to be real clear about this. It's not a last chance for a balanced budget agreement.
Q That's not my question .
MR. MCCURRY: I know, but I want to -- I don't want anyone to misinterpret what I'm going to say. We will continue to work at it regardless of whether we have any success in the next two or three days before the President departs for Mexico. And if we don't, it will be the first subject he turns to upon his return. And the people who are here will continue to work the issue, certainly, while he's traveling.
So the search for a balanced budget agreement is not going to go anywhere anytime soon. It will still be a part of the work that we want to do in the second term, and the President will pursue it with some urgency.
Now, the fact of the matter is that they've had a lot of good discussion and they're either going to crystallize and amount to something pretty soon or they're not. And we'll probably know in coming days whether they're going to amount to anything soon.
But if they don't -- to answer your question, if they don't, I think Chairman Domenici has already said they have to go forward with some point with writing a budget, and we presume that they will do that. But it becomes a lot harder to do that when public positions are frozen in and you get back to the kind of debate back and forth that we've seen in the past. That's why the President, working with the bipartisan leadership and with their agreement and consent, structured a process to see if we couldn't move a little more rapidly to an agreement. And we will see; we don't know.
Q But in terms of practical realities, do you see the end of this week as, in effect, closing the period where you could still negotiate with the Republicans without them having to go public?
MR. MCCURRY: We will continue to negotiate, continue to be open to any ideas they present, continue to try to work in good faith on the issues. As to what the Republican sense of timing for laying down their own budget might be, you really have to ask them.
Q What's the President's position on a provision that might be in a supplemental appropriations bill this week coming out of Congress that would basically say if there's not budget, if there are no appropriations bills the government won't shut down, everything will just continue to operate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, while we certainly believe it's a good idea not to forcibly shut the government down, the way the Republicans have in the past, we also don't think you can try to hold the White House hostage to the spending priorities that they want under the same guise. It's a very bad idea and I think would represent something of bad faith on the part of the Republicans side if they were to try to write a provision into law that said the government may continue to do its work only under terms that Congress specifies. That's not the environment in which we've had good-faith discussions to date.
Q Does the President have any objections to the bill pending right now that would dock country's foreign aide for slightly more than the amount of the unpaid diplomatic parking tickets. Does the White House have any position on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I remember talking about this at the State Department a long time ago and we have had some positive -- I'd have to check on it -- I think we've had a positive reaction to the general concept in the past, but there may be something specific pending now.
Q Back to Chelsea for a minute. Any idea when we'll know what school she has chosen? Also, what are some of the factors influencing her decision?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I haven't talked to her about it, I don't know what factors are important to her. I think it's safe to say that she has a choice of some of America's finest educational institutions to choose from and her acceptance has to be postmarked by May 1st.
Q Is Ambassador Richardson trying to persuade Mr. Mobutu to step aside?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's trying to make sure that there is an inclusive transitional government that leads to free and fair democratic elections.
Q Did that mean yes?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that was an artful way of saying something.
END 2:14 P.M. EDT