THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: The President is anticipated in a short while to the Oval Office where he's coming in to get a little update from the Chief of Staff on various matters. And not having had that update, I have not got a whole lot to tell you.
Q Can you tell us at all where the budget negotiations stand and if there's been any progress at all in the last 10 days?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been some progress, even in the last several hours. There's been some discussion back and forth. They are finalizing some of the understandings that would lead to the implementation of the agreement that was struck between the White House and congressional leaders. Work on that continues. There still needs to be a little more give and take, but we're hopeful that that will be finalized in time for the budget process to go to the next step, which will be a mark-up of a resolution.
Q So that means you'd expect -- since the House is planning to do mark-up tomorrow, the Senate on Thursday, that means you're expecting this to be done this afternoon.
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out, although it may take some additional time. But both sides are working very hard to clarify the understandings needed in order to move forward.
Q Does this mean the President today or tomorrow would sign off on the final -- or did he -- has he signed off --
MR. MCCURRY: We already signed off on the agreement. What they're doing is ratifying and codifying some of the necessary understandings to move to the next level of activity, which is a formal drafting of the budget resolution.
Q Mike, on the abortion debate up on the Hill, this morning you sounded like you support the Daschle proposal or the Daschle language. Do you believe that Daschle does -- that this actually goes further than partial birth abortion legislation that the House passed?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I would interpret it that way. By the way, we are looking at the language that Senator Daschle has put together. There are other alternative measures that are being produced. The President plans to get a briefing on various issues on the late term question this afternoon and at some appropriate point will be forwarding administration views to the Hill.
Senator Daschle's effort was one that was designed to accommodate the President's concern about health consequences for a mother who faces the awful and tragic condition of needing access to that type of procedure, and that's -- we've analyzed the bill with that precondition of the President in mind.
Q The health language is very strict, much more strict than some of the legislation that he looked at in the past. If the pro-lifers say that the opportunity that the doctor can make the decision as to whether or not the mother is in grave danger leaves it wide open, how do you view that? Do you believe that the doctors would be -- would act that way?
MR. MCCURRY: Doctors, as a general practice, act in the best interests of their patients, and on a matter as deeply personal as this, the decision ultimately is made by the woman after consultation with the doctor and other advisers that she has. But it is part of the Hippocratic Oath for a doctor to render the best medical judgment he or she can to a patient.
Q But you wouldn't view this as a loophole, like the lifers do?
MR. MCCURRY: It's designed to protect the very serious health consequences a mother would face under a very set of particular circumstances, and in the case of the Daschle legislation, very specifically defined medical conditions.
Q Mike, the President, whenever he has spoken about this, has always talked about sort of the terrible physical problems that women sometimes have if they don't have a partial birth abortion. And I wondered whether he believes that mental health should be one of the things that is considered before someone is allowed to have a partial birth abortion? Or does he just at this point think it's physical health?
MR. MCCURRY: He has suggested that it should be serious adverse health consequences, and that is a matter that is best left defined by practitioners who are treating their patients.
Q So when you say he could -- we believe it's possible for the White House to support the Daschle language, what do you mean?
MR. MCCURRY: It means that we understand that that legislation was drafted to attempt to take into account the concerns the President has expressed in the past. We're going to present an analysis of that legislation to the President and see if it's acceptable to the President.
Q Would he be willing to accept language that would seem to preclude doctors finding that mental health was a reason for having a partial birth abortion?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that is one of the criteria specified in Daschle's bill.
Q His bill, in fact, seems to preclude --
MR. MCCURRY: And that's the question that pertains right now.
Q -- right, seems to preclude mental health being a factor and I think he says serious bodily damage or something.
MR. MCCURRY: Grievous health consequences for a mother, which could involve -- conceivably involve impediments to mental health, but I'd leave that to those who would interpret the legislation.
Q Is it incorrect to say the President has already seen and agreed to the Daschle language?
MR. MCCURRY: That is -- it would be incorrect to say that. He is expected to get some report on that even today.
Q Do you think you'll have an update for us later today?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll probably at some appropriate point send administration views to the Hill, I would think in the form of a SAP, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe somebody else? At an appropriate point, not necessarily today.
Q I'm sorry, in the form of a what?
MR. MCCURRY: Statement of Administration Policy.
Q Mike, on Rita's question, the President sent a letter last year to the Baptists saying he didn't seek a mental health exception. There is no change on that, is there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has not specified that type of exclusion in the past, but we're dealing in an environment right now where Senator Daschle is trying to take into account the President's concerns; he's also trying to head off a measure that he doesn't feel would take into account the President's views and clearly would be vetoed. So he's clearly trying to work for a majority and ultimately, if necessary, a veto-proof margin in the Senate.
Q He did say that specifically in the past, he did not want a -- he was not seeking a mental health exclusion, which is what the lifers were saying is his deal.
MR. MCCURRY: He has not, to my knowledge, sought that in the past. I don't think that was in the draft in our language that we sent up in response to the debate last year. Those were not one of the specific conditions that the President cited.
Q Is there any last-minute decision to send the documents to Burton's committee?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but there will be, no doubt, further discussions in the next several days on it.
Q Is Ruff going to testify?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we'll see what happens on Thursday.
Q You mean you're not going to tell them or us before Thursday whether he's going to show up there?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be up to the Counsel and I don't know if he's made a decision yet.
Q There is a move again on the Hill to de-fund or dismantle the National Endowment for the Arts. Does the President still support that agency?
MR. MCCURRY: The President supports the proposed expenditure of funds that we submitted in our budget, and the justification for those funds which represented a very strong rationale for some continued federal support for the arts.
Q The Director of the NEA says that there is one staff person from the NEA who is detailed here at the White House. Are you aware of this, and is that appropriate?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that. I don't --
Q Is that appropriate for an organization that has had a downsize and has had to pinch its costs so much, to have one of its highest paid people on --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about that.
Q Are you able to say what reason Charles Ruff might have in not being willing to go and testifying on the Hill to defend his position on these documents?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say he'd made a determination to that effect yet. I just said we'll let you know by Thursday what he plans to do.
Q Why would that even be a question of his going up?
MR. MCCURRY: Because our hope all along has been that you could amicably resolve this matter, as we have with the Senate.
Q If the documents are resolved then he wouldn't have to go, right?
MR. MCCURRY: We worked out an arrangement with the Senator that was completely satisfactory and if common sense prevailed we'd do so with the House as well.
Q Mike, one of the arrangements --
MR. MCCURRY: Admittedly, that might be asking a little too much in this case.
Q One of the arrangements you folks have proposed for the Burton community if I understand it is to give the Democrats on the committee more of a role in saying what should be disclosed or what should be used in hearings. Is that an appropriate position for the White House to take in light of the --
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. It's appropriate for the President and executive branch to expect that there be fair and balanced hearings on Capitol Hill and not unilaterally determine measures by one partisan element of the discussion.
Q Is the meeting with congressional Democrats still on for tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he's meeting with the congressional Democrats tomorrow to review budget issues, kind of talk about where we are in implementing the budget agreement, look at the timing and calendar that lies ahead as a result of the budget agreement, and talk about other legislative priorities the President has.
Q Is the President going to West Virginia next week?
Q -- understandings codified or somehow -- are you going to have a statement that says what people promised and agreed to?
MR. MCCURRY: They've been working on -- as you know, when we announced the agreement there was a projected exchange of some correspondence that would clarify certain elements, and I think they've been working towards that end.
Q That's what you expect to have tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: At some appropriate point; soon, we hope.
Q Is the President going to West Virginia next week, and if so, why?
MR. MCCURRY: Morgan State -- that's Baltimore for the Morgan State commencement address, as we've already announced.
Q There was some rumor that on the 22nd he might go to West Virginia. No? Good.
MR. MCCURRY: It draws a blank on me, but that is beyond my limited window of knowledge.
Q Mike, when do you expect the President to move on the MFN this year?
MR. MCCURRY: Soon.
Q Well, he's got a June deadline as I understand it --
MR. MCCURRY: We're well aware of that and we will -- we've got to make a decision. The National Economic Council has been looking at that question and will have some recommendations for the President about timing and sequencing of MFN. But that has not been decided yet.
Q But do you expect then that it would be more or less by deadline time or --
MR. MCCURRY: I think you're right that the annual expiration is June 3rd, if I'm not mistaken. So, certainly, by that time, yes.
Q But close to that time rather than in the next day or so?
MR. MCCURRY: Sometime between now and then.
Q Mike, has the President been looking at all or been advised on the GM strike in Ohio? And is he concerned?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been -- he gets an update on it from time to time. The Labor Department has been watching that, although as is the custom in the auto industry, the federal role in a minimized, in fact, usually a nonexistent role as far as I remember. But we were watching that just only -- also because of the economic impact that has on workers who are dislocated during the strike and then downstream workers of industries that might be affected.
Q Mike, for the Tuskegee experiment, is the White House changing the name to the U.S. Public Health Service Experiment that took place at Tuskegee to kind of take the negative image?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're being careful on how we address it. These were experiments run by the U.S. Public Health Service. And many people sometimes, unfortunately, believe that the Tuskegee Institute had some role or had some involvement, which, of course, the Institute did not. So we're taking care in describing the event Friday just to say that this deals with the syphilis experiments that were conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service. And that's out of respect for the people at Tuskegee who I think have been impacted enough already as a result of the experiments.
Q What's the likelihood of getting any ambassadorial appointments announced today or in the next couple of days?
MR. MCCURRY: Not very high. They're working on those. They take time to go through the security checks that are done by the State Department. The State Department's Diplomatic Security Bureau is in charge of doing background checks with respect to ambassadors. That's a somewhat different process than we use for other federal appointments, and it does take time. But when appropriate, we will announce.
Q Will the President be meeting Peruvian President Fujimori, who is coming by again on Thursday?
MR. MCCURRY: The first I had heard he was here, and I'm not -- don't believe there is anything on the President's schedule indicating a meeting.
Q Could the White House deem the situation of flooding in Baltimore a disaster area?
MR. MCCURRY: We looked into that. There is not, to my knowledge, any request from the state of Maryland. We can only activate any type of federal assistance in response to a request from a governor, and Governor Glendenning has not submitted any requests, to my knowledge.
All right, here is what we're going to do for the -- we've got nothing else today coming on our end. I'm inclined to just put the full lid on now with the following understanding: One, if the House acts -- the House and-or Senate -- who's got H.R. 3? Both the House and the Senate are expected to act sometime today on the extension of the Individual Disabilities Education Act. We would have a written statement on that, applauding that if and when it does pass. And we will keep you apprised of any developments on budget, in case of that.
Q Wait a minute. What kind of lid is that?
MR. MCCURRY: Is that the West Virginia event?
Q That's not a lid.
MR. MCCURRY: You can take an option. If you think there is -- you can bet as well as we can here. If you want to bet that there might be something on the budget later today, stick around. If you want to go home and come back in in case you got something, you can do it that way.
Q How are you betting?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to -- I have to stick around. I have to put in a full work day for the taxpayers, so I'll be around until about 6:00 p.m.
Q He's going to the NEA and work.
MR. MCCURRY: They are working -- I know what -- I didn't realize. We have been talking about doing some type of town hall event on education to advance the President's education initiative, and that might very well happen up in West Virginia --May 22nd?
MR. TOIV: That's right.
MR. MCCURRY: May 22nd.
Q Do you know whether that will be a night or a day or a -- will that be in time to be on The CBS Evening News? (Laughter.)
Q With Dan Rather?
Q With Dan Rather and occasionally Rita Braver?
MR. MCCURRY: If they will carry it live, it will be at 6:31 p.m. (Laughter.)
Okay. That's it. See you all.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:25 P.M. EDT