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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 16, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon. Good Friday. Let me -- we will issue shortly a statement on antipersonnel land mines. This is one year to the day since the President called for the negotiation of a worldwide agreement to ban the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel land mines. We've got a statement that covers some of the work we've done in the intervening year, especially within the Conference on Disarmament to advance that objective and to again stress the President's determination to eradicate the use of those types of weapons.

Mr. Blitzer.

Q Does the President believe that welfare recipients who are moved off of welfare should be paid minimum wage?

MR. MCCURRY: The President will support any legal determination that is made by the Labor Department with respect to the Fair Labor Standards Act. If the Labor Department determines, as I believe they will determine, that welfare recipients and workfare or other subsidized employment programs do have the application of the minimum wage attached to their participation in that type of employment, we obviously would support that.

That's an interpretation of a law, not a matter of policy, though my understanding is that within the Fair Labor Standards Act, there is also exceptions for trainees that are specifically defined. It may be the case that some states are going to elect to cover some of their folks who are workfare participants under the trainee provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act. And we also understand that in calculating the minimum wage, that it will be possible to include some of the provisions that states make for cash assistance, food stamps and other forms of assistance.

So we don't believe this will be unduly burdensome on states, but it also at the same time will give a living wage to people who we are trying to encourage to move out of welfare and into work. And we've talked here in the past about how there are costs associated with employment -- sometimes transportation costs, day care costs -- and we want to make sure that people who are making this transition have the incentive to do it. And obviously, the application of a wage that recognizes that work should be rewarded makes sense.

Q Would one of those other things that would be added in be Medicaid? Would that be part of the balancing off --

MR. MCCURRY: I have not seen anything that indicates that that's what the Labor Department intends. In fact, I think I have seen some suggestion that they've specifically ruled that out.

Q That's non-cash, right?

MR. MCCURRY: That's non-cash benefit, correct.

Q Is the President still committed to vetoing the disaster assistance bill if it contains the provision, the non-shutdown provision? What about all these people who are depending on --

MR. MCCURRY: What we have said to the people that --the people out in the plain states who have suffered from this disaster, tell the politicians in Washington to not play politics with this disaster relief bill. There is no reason at all that this provision related to funding of government in the case of a shutdown ought to be attached to a disaster relief bill. It's very clear what the purpose of this bill is. It's to help the victims of the recent flooding and other disasters. They need the assistance. It should not be delayed any further by an extraneous provision that everyone understands the President finds objectionable. It's an attempt to really force a Republican Congress's priorities on the President. We've been down that road in the past, that doesn't work and they shouldn't try it again.

Q But they -- he will veto it if it comes that way?

MR. MCCURRY: He made it absolutely clear, the Congress can't have any doubt of that and they should strike that provision, pass the disaster relief bill and get the aid out to the folks who need it.

Q Mike, the new budget agreement restored some benefits to disabled legal immigrants when the welfare law was passed. Is the President still committed to try to reverse some of the harsh effects, as he called them, when the law was passed?

MR. MCCURRY: Indeed. In fact, we are gratified that within this agreement there are provisions that will help reverse some of those provisions of the welfare reform bill that would be damaging to legal immigrants.

Q Mike, could you tell me -- well, today is Friday and Sunday is the Morgan commencement -- will today parlay into the Morgan commencement race relations, racial reconciliation?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President intends in his commencement address on Sunday to talk about science and technology and how the benefits of science and technology need to be available to all Americans, regardless of race. And it's especially appropriate that he gives that type of speech at Morgan State because as it is not only historically a black college, but is also a college that has generated more graduates who have gone into scientific fields than I think any other college in the State of Maryland, if I read my material correctly.

So it's an appropriate -- it's not directly linked to this today. We are talking today about the misapplication of the scientific method in a very horrible way decades ago. The President will talk Sunday about the positive ways in which scientific research and medical research can really change lives for the better in America, and so in that sense, these two events are related. He will certainly on Sunday make a reference to the event today and talk about it, but it's not the sole focus of the speech.

Q Mike, the White House promised in a statement your office put out that it would comply with subpoena requests and -- the investigation, but it has not. In fact, they have fought the subpoenas. Which is it? Is it compliance or not?

MR. MCCURRY: There is apparently a sealed court proceeding that, because it's sealed I can't discuss.

Q Do I accurately portray the situation?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't discuss it -- and I can't portray your comment.

Q Has the administration received guarantees from Kabila, the leader of the rebels in Zaire, about what his intentions are after he takes power?

MR. MCCURRY: We have had conversations about his intentions and have stressed our view that they should be peaceful and it should be aimed at the reconciliation of people in Zaire, so they can overcome the effects of a regime that went bad in the guerrilla war that has raged mostly in the east and now elsewhere in the country. His intent is not entirely clear. We have had contact with him, have encouraged him to first institute a cease-fire that would protect the civilian population of Zaire; second, to begin the consultations necessary for an orderly transition to a new government which would eventually lead to free and fair elections and democracy.

At the moment, the status of things there is not entirely clear. There have been various and conflicting reports about President Mobutu's intention and what authority he now exercises over governmental decision-making in the capital. But, one way or another, Zaire is about to enter into a new stage of its history. It should be a peaceful one and we believe should be a democratic one and we have encourage Mr. Kabila to recognize the importance of both of those presentations.

Q But there was a report that the U.S. has offered to give him $10 million to --

MR. MCCURRY: That's fiction.

Q That's fiction?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. That is not true. Now, we are supportive of and encourage democratic elections, to be sure; but we have not made any such offer of assistance, I am assured again by foreign policy folks here.

Q Is it true that he has promised or committed himself to organized elections in two years?

MR. MCCURRY: We have certainly encouraged him to be prompt in finding ways to bring about the transition we've talked about. I'm not aware that we've received any commitment from him with respect to that.

Q And so nothing -- can you confirm that Mobutu has actually left Zaire heading for Morocco now?

MR. MCCURRY: I cannot confirm that. There have been various reports that that is his intent, but we have only the information that's probably available to you.

Q Is Ambassador Richardson still in and out of that area?

MR. MCCURRY: He is not. He's back in Washington, although we have had active diplomacy through the remaining personnel who are at the embassy and then also through our special representative to the region.

Q Thank you.

Q Why did you lose so many Democrats on the Daschle alternative yesterday? And a follow-up to that -- would the President accept Santorum if it included an exception just to protect a woman's ability to have future children?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the nature of the exception we need I think is pretty clear. The President has talked about it, he put it in black and white in his veto message last year. If they want to write that type of exception they know what it would take to satisfy the President. The President accepted --

Q Is it broader than just a future child --

MR. MCCURRY: It's exactly the way the President stated it in the veto message, exactly the way we gave it again to the Congress in the statement of administration policy we gave both to the Senate and the House.

Now, on the first question, you'll have to ask the senators, themselves. You know, some of them are very strongly pro-choice and I think they felt the Daschle amendment was too restrictive. Some of them are very much against abortion and felt that it was too lenient. So for different reasons I think some democrats could not see fit to vote for the amendment. It's a disappointment to the President it didn't pass, because it would provide the only real way at this point to ban not only the late term procedure, but also late term abortions across the board and do so in a way that would still protect the life and health needs of the woman involved. And that is unfortunate that didn't happen. We are now headed, obviously, to a veto and that won't accomplish anything in the long run.

Q But do you know of any conversations with Santorum to make the bill acceptable to the President -- his bill?

MR. MCCURRY: Not -- I'm not aware of any. I don't know whether within the Senate there have been conversations with him.

Q Mike, what about the AMA board statement where they said that they could find no incidents where it was the only option for women? Is that of any assurance to the President?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because the President relied in a very personal way on women he met face to face who told him it was, in fact, the only procedure that would have been indicated in their individual cases, and that was his concern and remains his concern. And the AMA, I think, had a lengthier and more complicated statement that just simply that. It's clearly not a procedure indicated in all but rare circumstances. But it's the rare circumstance in which you need to have the exception and the protection and to assure that the woman's needs are accounted for.

Q Mike, getting back to the speech on Sunday, am I to take it it's mainly a thematic speech that you're outlining here? Does he have any ideas in mind in terms of new research, grant money, whatever, for scientific and medical research at minority colleges?

MR. MCCURRY: He'll talk a little bit about the ways in which we have invested in science and technology and why that's an important part of building a stronger society and a stronger economy for the 21st century. But I think one point the President is making here is that he is not going to this wonderful academic institution solely to give a speech that is about race or about issues that are only about race. Because one of his definitions of the agenda we have now for one America is a broader dialogue that reaches out and crosses racial, ethnic, gender, sexual preference barriers and builds more diversity.

So one of the things he talks about, I think, in the speech is how the investments we make in science and technology, how the work that not only this administration has done, but others have done to promote ethical application of scientific research can really positively impact the lives not only of minority communities, but of all Americans.

Q Can you give us a hint on policy issues that he's going to announce on Sunday?

MR. MCCURRY: He's going to have some policy announcements to make on Sunday and I know you'll be interested in them and there will be news on Sunday.

Q Arafat has let it be known he's written a letter to the President talking about his disappointment with Dennis Ross and with the peace process in general at this point. Is there concern? Is there a response?

MR. MCCURRY: We are always actively engaged with these parties in talking about their concerns. Ambassador Dennis Ross is spectacularly gifted and spectacularly committed in a process that is clearly a very often slow-going. We're at a moment right now where the parties are not fully engaged as they need to be. He has been working hard to try to get them engaged. It's going to take more work, it will take more time, it will require patience, but that has always been the case in the Middle East peace process and will always likely be the case.

Q What's his itinerary now? Does he stick around?

MR. MCCURRY: He's en route back home, will be back for consultations with the Secretary and perhaps even with the President, certainly with other members of the administration's peace team and we'll see where we go from there. I think Foreign Minister Levy is due in town.

MR. JOHNSON: He's here now and is meeting with the National Security Advisor --

Q You don't characterize this as more than a sort of routine give-and-take in the process?

MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing routine ever in this process. Every moment is a delicate moment, every -- anytime there is progress, it's usually obtained in a very painstaking fashion. Dennis has worked enormously hard to try to help the people -- all the people of this region realize the dream of peace, Palestinian as well as Jew. And I know his personal commitment remains, and I know that there are times when both sides, frankly, have been frustrated with it in the past. But that's the nature of being a negotiator, a facilitator, someone who tries to get each side to understand the other. And that's just the nature of the job in some ways.

Q Is there any hint that Arafat is saying, I won't deal with Ross anymore?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I have heard of, and to be sure, there is frustration. I think the frustration perhaps that's aimed at Ambassador Ross really reflects the frustration that the Palestinian side of the negotiation has with the other side of the negotiation, which is that in negotiations sometimes tempers get a little frayed.

Q Mike, what's the thinking here on this news that the man who questioned Admiral Boorda's military decorations now himself apparently also has decorations that he wasn't entitled to?

MR. MCCURRY: Peter, the President's thinking is, given the pain related to the death of Admiral Boorda that it would probably only add to it by commenting at any great length on this, so we don't have much to say on that subject.

Q Mike, back on welfare, Clay Shaw says that Congress can pass a technical amendment that would allow Medicaid benefits and food stamps, things like that, to be factored into the mix when looking at minimum wage. Would the White House support that?

MR. MCCURRY: We're not prepared to take any position on that. We would need to talk to Chairman Shaw, look at the legislation, see how it would affect other aspects of welfare reform, but we certainly would be willing to talk to the committee and to the Chairman about it.

Q He also says that was sort of the unwritten understanding to begin with. Is that your interpretation of that?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know enough about what the legislative history, the negotiating history on the Welfare Reform Bill would be to really answer that. You might really want to check with Bruce Reed. I think in general, as a general proposition, there is some sense that we have to figure out ways in which we can ease this transition that people need to make from welfare into work situations, but we also at the same time have to make work a rewarding experience, both personally and financially.

Q Mike, in the Tuskegee Experiment, 399 people had medication withheld from them to test causes around a disease for which a cause was already known. Currently, the federal government, through NIH and the CDC is funding a study on the African continent in many countries in which AZT is being withheld from women who are pregnant and in which, according to one group, over 1,000 children will die from AIDS as a result of this study in order to find out the cause for a disease whose cause is already known and prevention for the same. What is the irony of this? Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the Public Research --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware of his comments -- the principal difference is because of the lessons learned as a result of the experiments in Tuskegee. There are now ethical advisory boards not only in some of the countries in which HHS is sponsoring this type of work, but also within the department itself that review the testing and modeling regimens for the experimental process they're doing.

Look, we are trying to help -- in the developing world, trying to help suppress the transmission of HIV from mothers to children. They're trying to do that in a way that is appropriate, given the economies of the countries they're working in. AZT is not going to be in most developing countries in appropriate treatment regimen because of the cost -- countries will not be able to afford it, we will not be able to pay for that type of treatment for those countries. We, unfortunately -- and one of the realities of the balanced budget agreement we got today is we don't have all the money we would like to fund all the programs we would like everywhere in the world. We have to live within those constraints.

But the work that they are doing at HHS -- and they can tell you a lot more about it -- has been carefully reviewed for its ethical dimensions. And what they're trying to do is develop a treatment regimen that will work, that will actually get the job done of preventing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children.

Q Is it ethical? Is it ethical in a study of this nature for 1,000 children --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is certainly ethical to try to develop a treatment regimen that will save lives, which is what we're trying to do in a way that is appropriate and given the circumstances of the country and the likelihood that you can make that type of treatment available. They are testing treatment procedures or treatment regimens that would then, you know, be able to be made widely available within those countries. AZT treatment in those countries, according to what I've been told, is just not going to be an appropriate treatment regimen because of the cost.

Q But is it ethical if someone dies? I just want to know what you think about that.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, my opinions don't matter. It's how it's reviewed, how it's structured and how it's overseen within the Department and they do have a ways in which they can look at the ethical dimensions.

Q Is it the White House's opinion that it's ethical if someone dies?

MR. MCCURRY: It's the White House's position that the HHS is doing appropriately what it should do under the type of review mechanisms that exist within the Department to advance the public health interests of the citizens of those countries in which it's working in these treatment models.

Q Mike, are you saying the reason it meets the ethical guidelines is because, if a treatment isn't widely available, then withholding that treatment is ethical?

MR. MCCURRY: That treatment would not be able to be made available, so it's not -- so testing it on a select population as part of an experiment would not -- in a sense would be unethical because you're holding out the possibility of a treatment that is eventually not going to be available in those countries.

Q But then is it ethical to study the results of the lack of such treatment? In other words, to see how these people fare without AZT --

MR. MCCURRY: Pose that question over at HHS to the people who actually review the ethical dimensions of the research, because that's maybe a question that they've examined.

Q Is there an irony in Dr. Wolfe's calling this Tuskegee Two, just as the President is apologizing for Tuskegee One?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not a person that interprets irony. He made the statement. We think it's wrong. You get to decide whether it's ironic or not.

Q What's happening Monday?

MR. MCCURRY: Week ahead? Week ahead is, obviously he gives the speech we were just talking about on Sunday. On Monday, the NATO Secretary General will be here to talk, obviously, about the new Founding Act between the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Alliance. We've got the welfare-to-work event that I talked to you about yesterday that's on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the President will host the U.S. Conference of Mayors, will also meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. And then on Thursday, he goes up to West Virginia, as I also discussed yesterday, for the education town hall. And Friday, I don't see anything listed for Friday.

Do we have anything on Friday? Friday is not on this sheet. Anyhow, nothing on Friday. There are also some fundraisers during the week, at night next week, and we've got the week ahead available for you otherwise.

Q I've got a budget question. What was the net tax cut that President Clinton originally put forward? I know the gross was around $98 million. What was the net?

MR. MCCURRY: I remember -- we'll have to check. We'll have to call Gene and check on that. I don't want to guess the answer.

Q Gingrich's decision not to borrow as much money from Dole -- is that a more appropriate means of repaying this penalty?

MR. MCCURRY: That was his decision and his to make.

Okay, thanks.

END 1:36 P.M. EDT