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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 20, 1997
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                             MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:24 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Do not be surprised if you see the President of the United States putting on the Eisenhower putting green, because his doctors have concluded that his rehabilitation and recuperation is going sufficiently well he can go and start putting around.

Q But he can't play golf?


Q And he can't swing, no back swing, right?

MR. MCCURRY: He'll probably -- Dr. Adkinson, who is himself golfer, says he'll probably work his way up to the bag -- start with the putter, then he can do some light chipping, and then move up from that.

Q Mike, is he doing that today? And will we have an opportunity to see him?

MR. MCCURRY: He has an event coming up at 2:00 p.m. And he has the option, if he so chooses, on this beautiful spring day to go the putting green afterwards. I think the chances are pretty good. I'll take any bets you want to make on that one.

Q Is he going to continue to use a cane?

Q Is the President aware that -- came back from his injury too soon and ruined his arm and --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Absolutely -- absolutely. In fact, one of the things he is -- he has asked that they be pretty conservative in what they recommend on treatment. That's one of the reasons why he went a little extra time on crutches before moving to the cane. I think the doctors are very happy with the way the leg is healing up. But he has not pushed it and doesn't intend to and doesn't want to get out and test the leg by trying to take a full golf swing anytime soon. But putting -- he needed to work on his putting anyhow, in my opinion. Too many gimmees.

Q Is he using a real putter or Big Bertha? He doesn't have to move with Big Bertha or bend at all.

MR. MCCURRY: He has a collection of, I think, well over 40 or 50 or maybe even more putters. So he has an ample number of putters to choose from.

Q Yes, he took all that golf equipment as gifts.

MR. MCCURRY: He'll probably use one of those little Bull's Eyes. I think that's the one he usually plays with.

Q When did he get this word from the doctors? Was this like a regular check-up today?

MR. MCCURRY: Apparently today. Dr. Mariano just called over and wanted to make sure we knew that because she said people might see him out there and she just wanted to know it was not against doctor's orders.

Q Well, people won't see him out there unless you let us see him out there.

Q How about that? Are you going to let us see him out there?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, people. I wasn't talking about cameras, I was talking about people.

Q -- cameras, Mike.

MR. MCCURRY: I wasn't talking about mechanical devices.

Q Why don't you allow us to go out there and see him?

MR. MCCURRY: Just go out there and watch him putting around? All right, I'll think about it.

Q If he stays on this current path of healing so fast, would he be able to play golf by, say, time for his summer vacation, do you think?

MR. MCCURRY: Doctors still think it will be some time. They initially estimated it would be about three more months before he could play, but we'll have to see how it goes. My guess is it's still going to be fairly late summer before that's even a possibility.

Q Speaking of which, is he taking a summer vacation, and where might he go?

MR. MCCURRY: They've got a lot of time booked out in August for whatever they want to do, and they have not decided what they want to do.

Q Mike, since we're on the subject of the President's health, I saw him last night up close for the first time in a long time; he looks like he's lost even more weight. Is this true?

MR. MCCURRY: Dr. Mariano told me I guess about a week ago he was down a little bit even from his last annual physical exam. I can't remember -- what did he clock in --

Q Two hundred five was what we were told before.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he's I think, most recently he's been around 203 in that neighborhood. But he's feeling good, looking good.

Q How is he feeling about Dick Gephardt? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Congressman Gephardt, of course, was in the bipartisan leadership meeting they just had and made a good presentation about the progress we've made this year and in a very, I think careful and very honorable way, talked about some of the areas of disagreement. I think it would be more appropriate to let him talk more about it, but he's -- look, he is a very highly valued member of the Democratic team on the Hill, and the President has a great affection and respect and regard for him and we will continue to work with him. They're honorable disagreements on issues.

Q Did he tip his hand on the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to break any leads for you.

Q Well, this isn't a lead. Did he talk about the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: He talked in a general way about some of the concerns that people on the Democratic side of the aisle had, but he plans to speak much more specifically today on that question if I still understand, and I think it would be more appropriate for me to let him speak. I did a good job of giving you our reaction to it in advance, so you won't have to worry.

Q Is the President at all concerned the Congressman might be able to, as the Democratic leader in the House, portray Mr. Clinton as signing what amounts to a Republican budget?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so, because I think there will be more Democrats in favor of the agreement than not in favor of the agreement. But there are people in the -- a minority of the minority party will have some strong objections to this bill, and that's -- for reasons that are completely honorable and just based on some disagreements about direction of policy. But we never have said anything but that his is a compromise. And when you compromise with Republicans and you're a Democrat, you're going to end up with some things that in the perfect world you wouldn't necessarily have accepted. I mean, we got an agreement. It was not the agreement that the President would have written if he had had the pen all to himself, obviously.

Q Was the only contact that the President had with Gephardt and Daschle today in this bipartisan meeting, or did he get any time with them separately? And I'm just wondering what -- any exchange he had with Daschle about abortion.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, we talk to the Minority Leader and his staff all the time, and John Hilley had had some conversations with his staff yesterday and I think we had a pretty good sense of how he was going.

Q But what about Clinton and Daschle on abortion? Was there any exchange at all?

MR. MCCURRY: None that I saw. Did you see any -- Mary Ellen sat through more of the meeting than I did. He did not say --you heard Senator Nickles report that he was not -- didn't illuminate his thinking during the meeting.

Q Does he have a clear understanding from Daschle how he's going to vote?

MR. MCCURRY: A yellow jacket bee just threw up here on the podium. So if this briefing come to an abrupt and rapid end, you'll know why.

Q Did Daschle tell him what he's going to do at 3:00 p.m. on --

MR. MCCURRY: No. No, and if he did I wouldn't tell you. (Laughter.)

Q Senator Lott and Senator Nickles left open the possibility they were hoping that the President might reconsider his veto on the late-term abortion procedure.

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President feels very strongly about that exception that needs to be available. And we understand that they made some -- they tinkered with the legislation a little bit and they accommodated some of the concerns the AMA had with respect to doctors, but that's not the same thing as taking care of the concerns that the President has about the women.

Q They also said that the President seemed to think that there would now be a 67-vote veto-proof majority, that the President was indicating he thought that there could be 67 votes. Does the President think that there might be 67 votes?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we'll just have to wait and see how the vote comes out later today.

Q How does the President counter the statements from the AMA and Dr. Koop that are being cited by Senator Nickles to say that there is no exception, the procedure is never needed for the health of the mother?

MR. MCCURRY: He has very vivid personal stories from women who are absolutely certain otherwise, and that's more compelling to the President.

Q Mike, what's the Congressional Black Caucus meeting about tomorrow, and does it incorporate the race relations conference that's coming up here?

MR. MCCURRY: I think they've got a broad agenda. They're going to talk about current items. I'll have to find out more and let you know.

Q What does the President think about whether Lt. Flynn should get an honorable discharge, and more generally, how the military is handling this situation with adultery?

MR. MCCURRY: Because they are handling it and because it is an issue within military jurisprudence at this moment, it would be highly unadvisable for the Commander in Chief who is in the chain of command to make any comment on the case. I think you can understand that.

Q Did it come up at the meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: It did not. I understand that Senator Lott has some things to say afterwards, but to my knowledge, it didn't come up at the meeting.

Q What about the general way the military handles these issues? Is he content with the way the process works?

MR. MCCURRY: Any comment I make generically is going to be interpreted by you specifically; I'm just not going to do that for you.

Q So the President hasn't weighed in with the Pentagon at all on this issue?

MR. MCCURRY: He's not taken any formal action with respect to how this case should be handled, to my knowledge. He hasn't taken any action at all regarding this case as far as I know.

Q I'm not even asking if he's taken any action, I'm saying has he spoken with the Secretary of Defense about this, has there been --

MR. MCCURRY: The general subject of how the military deals with cases involving sexual harassment, about how they're dealing with the incorporation of females and the various roles in the military, he has had conversations with both this Secretary and the other Secretary from time to time on this subjects. But please don't interpret that specifically with respect to Lieutenant Flynn's case.

Q Mike, Senator Lott also mentioned that he wants to get together with the President to talk about D.C. and kind of expanding the work they've already done. Was the President receptive to that?

MR. MCCURRY: He was very receptive to that. I think it was Senator Lott, if I'm not mistaken, who made the point that there are some items in common and some differences in their approach on the District. There's clearly a commitment on both sides of the aisle to address that issue, and certainly the President has advanced his ideas, been endorsed now by the D.C. City Council and at the President's suggestion, Frank Raines indicated he would follow up with the Majority Leader and the Speaker who, himself, has had a great interest, and see if they couldn't fashion sort of a consensus package and move forward. And we're delighted to have that suggestion from the Majority Leader.

Q How comfortable is the President that the major opposition to the balanced budget deal is not coming from the Republicans, but from his own fellow Democrats.

MR. MCCURRY: That's today's -- or may be this hour's story, Wolf. I mean, there have been strong statements from a number of Republicans, I guess. Look, we've told you all along, there will be some Republicans, some Democrats who won't like the deal.

Q What kind of reading did he get on passage -- this week or by the end of the month?

MR. MCCURRY: We've got a pretty good sense from our own soundings and I think some of it reflecting what was said at the meeting that this bipartisan balanced budget agreement is going to pass with large majorities in both Houses.

Q When?

MR. MCCURRY: Soon. I mean, they're obviously acting in the House.

Q Senator Lott said that on the late-term abortion ban, "the President led me to believe that he might think that there might be enough votes to overturn a veto." Is the President concerned?

MR. MCCURRY: The vote is today. I'm not going to speculate. By the time most of you have to report on this, you'll know what the vote is.

Q Mike, is the White House doing lobbying at all on this?

MR. MCCURRY: We've had our people available. I don't know that we are actively lobbying in the sense that you would suggest lobbying. I mean, we've shared some of our concerns, talked to individual members, had some staff to staff contact. This is a matter of deep moral conscience for senators. And they're going to have to struggle with it. I think many of them are struggling with it because it's a procedure that no one finds acceptable, tasteful. Unfortunately, in a very rare number of circumstances, it needs to be available for specific instances in which a woman might be grievously harmed.

Q Well, how do you compare what the White House is doing on the Santorum vote to what they did for the Daschle --

MR. MCCURRY: We've been active on both. We would have liked to see a stronger vote for the Daschle amendment. We'd like to see a margin in the Senate vote that would indicate a presidential veto could be sustained. But we'll just have to see how it comes out.

Q No, what I'm asking is Shalala, Gore, people made phone calls last time for Daschle -- is that happening this week?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there's some activity. We can maybe get back to you on how much activity.

Q Is the President supposed to make any phone calls today?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge he hasn't, no.

Q Was Gephardt coming out against the balanced budget agreement the inevitable questions that Gephardt, Gore, 2000 will come out?

MR. MCCURRY: And the inevitable answers will be given and you know what they are, and let's not run the 2000 campaign in 1997. Let's wait in two or three years. Come back to me about two years, three years.

Q Any comment on Bob Nash?

Q What if anything did the meeting produce on the --I guess it's a supplemental -- the disaster release that is being held up by --

MR. MCCURRY: A lot of discussion about it and everyone wanting to find some way to avert some collision course on this. I think the President gave some assurances that he's not interested in provoking a fight at least to another issue of government shutdown. We've made that clear all along and that's not going to be an issue. And because it's not going to be an issue, they don't need to spend a lot of time on this very necessary legislation haggling over terms of a CR. So I think both sides indicated their position on that and I think they are going to look for some way that they can move on that disaster relief package, because that's the important measure to the people who need the relief.

Q But there is no indication as to how they will?

MR. MCCURRY: They're going to just work on that.

Q What does the President expect to get out his meeting tomorrow with Mayor and -- conference and what's it about?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he wants to get from these leaders of urban America a sense of how the specific fight against drugs like methamphetamine, in particular, are going at the street level; what kind of -- what they think of the resources that they have available; what kind of law enforcement effort they think they see working; what other kinds of general approaches to treatment and prevention they see working. So it would be a good opportunity to discuss those issues and how -- some specific things about where we are that I think will be of interest and perhaps even newsworthy.

Q Mike, just as a follow, you said urban leaders. There have been a lot of reports lately that the problem of meth affects suburban white women.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I think -- we're meeting with mayors tomorrow, so naturally it's more concentrated on what's going on in cities. But it's a problem that touches other walks of our society, of course.

Q Is there any comment on Bob Nash testifying before the Whitewater grand jury today?


Q On a related topic. What's your understanding of the agreement that's been reached with Burton -- between Burton and Mr. Ruff?

MR. MCCURRY: That they seem to be -- I mean, they've had -- some of Chuck Ruff's staff has been up there -- Lanny Brewer, in particular -- they've had good conversations. It looks like they're trying to work through issues and resolve them.

Q Well, is there as agreement, though, that you know of?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't check just prior to coming down, but I have not heard that they've reached any final agreement on it. I asked Chuck to give me a call once he had heard that. But I think they'll probably -- they were going to talk about it some more today. I mean, in our view, we've said all along that there could be reasonable protections put in place that would satisfy our concerns about this. And the small number of documents we're talking about could be available. They always have been available to the committee; it's just whether or not we could find the right circumstances for them to actually take possession of the documents. And I've told you often that we think that if people were being reasonable and applying common sense, they could work it out.


Q Another question. What's your understanding of the status of any improvements to Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House? It's been two years today since it was closed down. The Park Service says that they're waiting for some sort of environmental impact study from the Treasury Department. What is the White House view in more ways than one of what it looks like?

MR. MCCURRY: Our view is that those appropriate studies need to go forward, and they are going forward. And we look forward to them being concluded so we can develop the right kind of park for the front north side of the White House. It's not -- Pennsylvania Avenue is not going to reopen. It's not going to reopen for very good security reasons. And so, the question is, how do you best treat that space out there as a public common place that everyone can enjoy when they're here in the Nation's Capital. And they're working on that now.

Q Mike, you said the other day in reference to a question about the Mike Espy case and the subpoena that you cannot comment because the case is under seal. My question is outside that -- a statement put out by your office said that you would comply with the subpoena request. I just want to know whether your office stands by that statement.



Q I'm just curious about the Pennsylvania Avenue thing. Some of the criticism that gets leveled at you deals with a suspicion that what's happening is that it's being turned into a parking lot for the cars of administration officials here. How -- to what extent do you view Pennsylvania Avenue going to be used for parking?

MR. MCCURRY: There's no parking that I'm aware of that's being used there now.

Q Down at the other end --

Q There's a lot of parking.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that those are -- I think that is private parking. I don't believe that's federal employee parking; I'll double-check that.

Q I'm not talking about in front of Riggs Bank, I'm talking about over here in front of the EOB at regular intervals and down here as well.

MR. MCCURRY: They use that area in front of Blair House when they've got visiting foreign leaders for motorcades, but I don't know of any parking that's going on out there.

That's not the design and not foreseen as the design and that's not the purpose of the space out there. They want to turn it into a park eventually; they're trying to figure out what the best way is to turn it into a park.

Q Back to my question again. If you stand by that statement, is that not at odds with the facts?


Q How is it not -- how do you reconcile it?

MR. MCCURRY: Because sooner or later, depending on the proceedings, you have to produce the documents or a court rules that you don't have to produce the document, so you still produce the documents in the end of the day.

Q Mike, the White House has many times stated its respect of the Fed's independence. Would the White House be concerned if the Fed raises interest rates there is a political establishment outpouring --

MR. MCCURRY: Right. The markets are open and I'm not going to speculate.

Okay, see you all tomorrow.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:42 P.M. EDT