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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 21, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

3:35 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: I just had an opportunity to thank Ambassador Walters and Ambassador Gordon for the presentation. I told them both that their fare was certainly much better than the standard fare here. So we will now go from the historical and profound to the hysterical and the puny. (Laughter.)

Q How about giving us some of the human side of what's going on in the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: The human side? Well, people are working hard and preparing for the President's trip, and otherwise lounging out in the beautiful spring day.

Q Mike, what do you know about Democrats -- agreeing plead guilty on arranging $50,000 in illegal contributions?

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing.

Q Is there any concern about getting the China MFN through Congress -- approval?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think to get China NTR through we're going to have to work very hard. That's China normal trade relations -- (laughter). And we'll have to work hard to get approval for the normal trade relations that the President suggests and approves. Again, that should be the normal status of our trade relationship, but the Congress has the option of disapproving of the President's decision. We know that there is some opposition to the President's position, but we also know there's strong support and bipartisan support, and we will work to build on it.

Q What do you believe the issues will be? Will it be human rights?

MR. MCCURRY: They will be all the issues that we already raise vigorously in our bilateral dialogue with the People's Republic -- human rights concerns, trade-related issues, proliferation issues, security issues, those issues that we think we are better positioned to engage the Chinese on because we are economically engaged with them.

Q Nora and Gene Lum, who pleaded guilty to this $50,000 in illegal contributions, were also associated with a number of fundraising efforts of the administration in the period immediately before and after the Convention of last year. Isn't there any concern here that if their activities were illegal in the context of contributions to Senator Kennedy's campaign, Representative Price's campaign, that they may have --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have apparently entered a plea after negotiations with the Justice Department. You'll have to talk to the Justice Department about what they pled to.

Q But is there no reaction from here?

MR. MCCURRY: There's no reaction.

Q But they were intimately involved with fundraising for the party and for the election.

MR. MCCURRY: Again, there's, as far as I can tell, no one here that is aware of what their discussions were and the nature of the charges that they entered a plea on today. So you should go to Justice.

Q Well, Mike, when Bob Dole's campaign had people who were found guilty or pled guilty to fundraising allegations, the White House said that that reflected on the Dole campaign and that Mr. Dole was himself personally responsible for the fundraising activities of Republican donors. So doesn't the same hold for the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you can check for yourself to see whether Senator Dole has a comment on these developments.

Q No, no, I'm saying --

Q Data released by the Treasury about an hour ago showed that receipts were running about as high as economists had expected. What is -- individual tax receipts were way up, they were up by about $21 billion compared to what they were last year. How long can this go on? What does this mean for the budget agreement? And will the administration be doing any other estimates on the deficit in the near future? I mean, right now it's --

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check with OMB. I mean, they have -- when do they do mid-session review?

MR. TOIV: Toward the end of the summer.

MR. MCCURRY: Towards the end of the summer they would do a mid-session review of the numbers. Now, in effect, in some sense, these very positive developments with respect to revenue collection are related to the strength of the economy and already have played a role because I think it's arguable that they made it easier in part for the negotiators to reach agreement. But we will stick with the projections that we have, adjust them as we see fit based on the technical analysis of the OMB staff, working obviously with the Congressional Budget Office, and projecting ahead. This administration will continue to take the view it's more important to be prudent and cautious and conservative in making our projections. And one reason why the budget deficit has been considerably lower than what we've projected is because we've always been prudent in using our assumptions, making our assumptions about the performance of the economy.

If the economy out-performs our assumptions, that's good news for everybody in the country, and it will certainly make some of the choices that we have to make with respect to the budget easier, but at the same time, I think prudence dictates caution and conservatism when making an analysis of the future performance of the economy.

Q Is the President going to reconsider on fast track and offer anything anytime soon -- a proposal on that? And also is going to -- Kennedy-Hatch amendment in the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, those are two separate questions. He is committed to working this year to achieve fast track authority for all of the reasons that he has talked about publicly. We have got to be in a position to take advantage of the growing commerce that we have in this hemisphere, that this hemisphere has with other trading partners with whom we compete. And the President has said to Congress, and said quite clearly, that he needs that authority to negotiate trade agreements that protect the economic interests of the American people. We will certainly seek, and hopefully obtain, that this year.

Q Kennedy-Hatch?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, Kennedy-Hatch is -- you've heard us on this subject before. You cannot, if you're in this White House, fail to applaud the effort of Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch to do two things that this administration has fought hard to do: one, cover uninsured children who need their health insurance needs attended to; two, to discourage young people, and indeed all Americans, from smoking and the dangers of addiction to tobacco, which is exactly the purpose that Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch pursued. That's why we've specifically left this subject out of the balanced budget negotiations, thinking, as did the sponsors and their allies, that it would be best for Senator Kennedy, Senator Hatch to have a freestanding opportunity to build support for the legislation. As a freestanding matter, I think this President's sympathies are pretty clear on the thrust of the legislation.

The problem is the amendment doesn't stand freely; it stands encumbering the balanced budget agreement that we also fought very hard for. The President is not about to see all that hard work go down the drain, and he has very clearly been told by the majority in the Senate that this amendment is a deal-buster. And he is not going to let that agreement go down. He takes some satisfaction knowing that we did obtain $16 billion in the balanced budget agreement to extend health insurance coverage to 5 million uninsured children. That's one of the reasons why the President personally fought so hard for exactly that element of the agreement, so that we would know that we at least had moved halfway to covering the uninsured population of young people.

But, you know, at the end of the day, the merits of the Kennedy-Hatch legislation will have to stand on their own. We hope they will stand in a position that the Congress can be supportive, but they can't clearly stand encumbering the balanced budget agreement that would otherwise go down the drain if this amendment passes.

Q What about the fact that the Senate Democratic leader says, is if this is a deal-buster, so be it.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's an honorable gentleman and he can have that opinion.

Q Didn't he sign up on the agreement to -- he argued on the floor of the Senate that he did not view this amendment as inconsistent with the agreement that he signed on to and that the President signed on to --

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has talked to him and conveyed to him the very strong, opposite point of view that's been conveyed to the President by the majority in the Senate.

Q And would Senator Gore (sic) then pass the tie-breaking --

MR. MCCURRY: It's hypothetical.

Q Mike, there was word that Vice President Gore, in fact, was lobbying in favor of Kennedy-Hatch; that's incorrect?

MR. MCCURRY: That's incorrect to my knowledge.

Q Because Kennedy said on the floor that he felt Vice President Gore was coming up there to vote in favor of the Kennedy-Hatch.

MR. MCCURRY: I just saw the Vice President here a short while ago, so I don't think he's on his way up there. But I think that Senator Kennedy clearly knows the Vice President's strong views on tobacco.

Q On another subject, today at the Mayor's Conference here, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke presented the fact once again -- criminalization of drugs, treating it as a health problem, not a criminal problem. President Clinton did not say a word after that. What was the President's thoughts or what is he thinking about?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he didn't want to publicly dispute a mayor that he respects, Mayor Schmoke. He clearly has a different point of view. This administration is not in favor of decriminalizing drug use and the whole purpose of that event today was to talk about the efforts we're doing to eradicate drug use, to prevent it, to treat it and also to make sure that we break the backs of those who sell drugs to children, especially.

Q But, Mike, obviously it's not working, because -- I mean, you still have kids --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, why is it obviously not working?

Q Because you have people out in the street --

MR. MCCURRY: Drug use is down, correct?

Q But -- but --

MR. MCCURRY: And we have the problem with young people using drugs, which is exactly what we talked about today and what we're trying to address.

Q But, Mike, the problem is you have a lot of junkies out there who have this in their system. They're clubbing people, killing people for $20 or busting into cars --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President does not believe that decriminalizing drugs or legalizing drug use is going to make that problem better. He thinks it will make that problem worse.

Q Mike, in light of this guilty plea today, is there anything that the administration doing, or the Democratic National Party is doing to look at campaign contributions that the Lums might have had a hand in -- no review, no nothing --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think they have made an exhaustive audit of contributions, and you can ask the DNC about how that impacts on any contributions or activities that the Lums had.

Q Mike, can you set up the Clarksburg trip for us? Why is he going, what's he going to say?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has been around the country this year advocating strongly in favor of the education initiatives that he presented in the State of the Union. He has been principally in front of state legislatures; this is a great opportunity at Robert C. Byrd High School tomorrow in Clarksburg, West Virginia, to talk to an audience of students, parents, administrators, community leaders, who have been a part of really a fairly amazing turnaround in public education in the State of West Virginia.

He's going to talk again about standards. We think the State of West Virginia is going to have some things to say about the application of standards in testing tomorrow that will be positive news, and the President also wants to engage with this audience of West Virginia citizens on the central elements of his education initiative -- making sure that kids can read, making sure that they can do mathematics in a way that makes them competitive in the world, making sure that they're prepared for the workplace and for college educations.

Q Turned education around how?

MR. MCCURRY: They've done -- we will have some fact sheets for you tomorrow, about just the effort that's been made within the state to improve their overall education standards. They've had quite a remarkable improvement in performance.

Q When West Virginia signs on, how many will that be? Will there be seven now?

MR. MCCURRY: We've got -- in states? Previously Wisconsin -- I don't want to guess here, let me look it up -- we previously had Maryland, North Carolina and Michigan signed up for testing, along with the Department of Defense Schools. We had positive signals from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in California, who is now working to try to get a commitment to the President's initiative through the legislature working in and around the Governor's office, and we also have got maybe some other states that will have some things to say, maybe even as soon as tomorrow.

Q Is it going a lot slower than he had hoped?

MR. MCCURRY: No, we're making a lot of progress on this. If you could get the inclusion of the California public school system, which obviously is very significant, we'd be up to almost a fifth of kids in public education in the country who would be a part of this testing regimen within the next several years, which would be a good improvement and good progress.

Q Mike, going back to the Congo, is the President going to say anything about the French citizens being killed?

MR. MCCURRY: He's -- we, I believe, at the State Department have already expressed regret for that loss of life, and encouraged the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo in formation to attend to the public safety of citizens in Kinshasa and elsewhere in the country.

Q Is that the same view of the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Obviously, the White House echoes that statement.

Q Does that suggest you were overly optimistic about the reduced threat there? I understand they were starting to pull out U.S. --

MR. MCCURRY: We're not overly optimistic. We've had pretty clear advisories available to the public about our view of the security situation, and it's very dangerous and will likely remain dangerous there. That's one of the reasons why we shifted U.S. personnel around, but we've got some capacity in the region to address security needs.

Q Mike, can I ask a couple about the President's speech earlier today on the fashion ads? Did he mean to single out only heroin use or would this be any drug use which is depicted in ads?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he's -- he clearly -- his concern about the images we communicate, especially to young people, would include any representation that encourages drug use. He's specifically dealing with something that, to its credit, the fashion industry itself is debating, which is images that either glamorize or attempt to glorify heroin use as sort of a trendy drug, and he just thinks that's not only inappropriate, it's dangerous, as he said.

Q In the past, a lot of photographers in the magazines have called this "art." He says it's not art. What's --

MR. MCCURRY: I think he said today it's not art, it's a matter of life and death, particularly for -- now in a very graphic way, a matter of life and death. And I think he knows that the industry can responsibly draw a distinction between dangerous advertising images and freedom of expression.

Q Also, one last question on this, kind of off the beaten path. He's spoken out against Calvin Klein in the past with their sexual type of ads. Does the President have any concern that the NEA funds projects that depict both of these -- drug use and sex -- and that whether or not maybe he should put some restrictions on NEA funding of projects which do exactly what he's cried out against?

MR. MCCURRY: I would look carefully at the assumption that the NEA has funded art projects of that nature. I think they have addressed that, and if you talk to the work that they've done there, talked to Jane Alexander's folks, they have done a lot of work over the last several years -- in fact, dating back to previous administrations -- that go at exactly that question.

Q Mike, to follow, do you think he would convene a summit, much like he did with the broadcasters and so forth, Madison Avenue types --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he was indicating that today; I think he was just -- he felt that one of his responsibilities from time to time is to speak out on issues of this nature. He's done so, he hopes the industry is responsive, and I think he knows that there is debate within the industry itself on this point, and maybe the developments will be positive.

Q I want to return to a colleague's question that was dismissed, because it does seem like a reasonable question to me, and it's, if the White House did publicly say that Senator Dole as a presidential candidate should have been responsible in all ways for what happened in fundraising under his watch, why do you not want to take that same question in regard to the Lums and President Clinton?

MR. MCCURRY: The question was, we had comments about a situation there, and it's not fair for me to try to speak for Senator Dole; that's what I was indicating.

Q I'm not asking you to speak for Senator Dole. I'm asking you why the situation isn't analogous.

MR. MCCURRY: Because I don't know a thing about the charge that was pled guilty to, I don't know the nature of the discussions by the Justice Department. We knew in the case of the -- case what the specifics were that he pled to. I don't know that in this case. This news just happened and it's not my position here to react.

Q Do you know if he knows them? The President?

MR. MCCURRY: The Lums? I don't really know if he knows them. I would assume that he does, because they have at various times been prominent in the party, but they have been associated with fundraising for others in the party in other states, and that's all been written about quite extensively, as you know.

Q Mrs. Lum made five visits to the White House in a short period of time.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and so did a lot of others. Yes.

Q President Clinton discussed the Greek-Turkish disagreements -- with NATO Secretary General Solana during their meeting before yesterday here at the White House.

MR. MCCURRY: Did they talk about the -- did they talk Greek-Turkey relationships at all?

MR. JOHNSON: It was exclusively on NATO expansion --

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing on Cyprus or the Aegean.

MR. JOHNSON: -- and agreements with others.

MR. MCCURRY: They didn't have the direct opportunity in that encounter, but obviously within the context of U.S. deliberations in NATO there have been occasions when the southern flank issues and the relations between our two close NATO allies have been discussed.

Q The two-day conference on drugs had, among its sponsors, Kraft Foods, which is a division of Philip Morris, and one of the participants raised the question that this seemed a little out of skew that you would be taking essentially borderline tobacco money to support a conference on dealing with drugs, particularly when the administration seems to hold the view that nicotine is a drug.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to look into that. I don't know about that. Are we sure that these have been chopped off and we told our friends across the way.

MR. JOHNSON: I have done my best to inform them.

MR. MCCURRY: Excellent. Okay, and I'll do those at the end. I've got some personnel announcement, which we will do at the end.

Q Mike, on yesterday's abortion vote, how much concern is there on the override vote, given the AMA stance and previous override vote? There were a couple of switches. They're only three votes away now. How much worry is there that you can hold it below the 67?

MR. MCCURRY: We're confident we've got a good, strong argument to make, and once the President does make his veto message, we think it will be powerful enough that we'll certainly hold that margin and we'll see if it's not convincing to some of those who voted in favor of the Santorum measure.

Q Is that a veto message in writing? Is he going to do anything more?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll see. We haven't even gotten the legislation and haven't even heard that it's ready to come here yet.

Q Mike, with all the sexual harassment issues in the military right now, did the President ever say anything to you about Sunday's commencement address -- well, Sunday's commencement -- where one of the -- what is it? -- service officers graduating, and she was a female and she's stationed at Aberdeen, and the crowd was aghast at that?

MR. MCCURRY: He did not say anything about that.

Q Can I follow up on fast track? Did Ambassador Barshefsky or Mr. McLarty meet with the President? Did they talk about timing on fast track?

MR. MCCURRY: I think they've had some discussions in and around the White House today. I have to go back and really check and see whether specifically that was addressed. They were scheduled to have a meeting soon to talk about some of those issues. And I'll check and see where we are on that.

Q Do you know anything off hand about the First Lady's commencement address tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not, no. We're going to call Julie Mason and bug her. (Laughter.)

Q On the fashion thing again, this whole trend isn't exactly new. In fact, it's probably, according to folks, out of fashion by now. What took the President so long to --

MR. MCCURRY: I'll be honest with you. I think it's really the story that the New York Times did on the whole issue. And that caught the President's attention and led him to believe he should say something about it. I think you're correct that there's been a debate within the industry. It's been written about in trade publications and others for some time. But I think it was only because he happened to see some coverage in the Times that he felt provoked to say something about it. He was, I think, particularly disturbed by some of the images that the Times presented. And it just -- that made an impact on him.

Q Is the administration going to follow recommendations in the mayor's action plan to distribute anti-drug money directly to the cities?

MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check -- I honestly don't know how we handle some of the portions of the funds that we are seeking within our drug funding for our drug strategy. I don't know how that works community by community. I think we work our assistance at the state level. The mayors typically want to get more hands-on money and usually that's an argument that develops between mayors and governors. But I honestly -- have any of you guys -- directly?

Q It seems to be perennially claimed that they don't get the money distributed in block grants to the state.

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. And they -- and we have stressed the importance of getting this assistance to the community grassroots level where they're really doing the fight against drug use and trying to get some of the prevention and drug reinforcement money into the pipeline. But maybe we can check with General McCaffrey's office and see if they've addressed that specifically.

Q Mike, you said that the President is not going to get involved in the Kelly Flinn case because it's a chain of command issue. But is there any thought at the White House that the military should look again at sort of in general how it handles these cases since much of the bungling in the Kelly Flinn case -- it seems that there were a number of steps that had been criticized kind of early on?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, I -- there's a lot that we would obviously love to say about the general issue. We can't because anything we say would be prejudicial. It could conceivably be harmful to Lieutenant Flinn's interest -- or at least -- and certainly could be harmful to the interests of the military which the President, as Commander-in-Chief, leads. So I just can't help you on this. Okay?

Q Does this suggest, however, the President might have something to say after this particular case?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to take the bait, sorry.

Q Will there at least be some kind of image boosting for the military since it --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not -- again not -- anything I say will be interpreted in the context of that case, and it's just incorrect for me to explore that.

Q Well, all the cases, all the cases --

MR. MCCURRY: There's a lot of work to be done. The President and the Secretary of Defense and others have said there's a lot of work to be done to help the military do all those things that it is doing to adjust to the culture of a military that includes male and female in new roles, in changing roles. And that work will continue. From Dr. Perry and now under Secretary Cohen, there has been an enormous amount of work done on quality of life issues and exactly these kinds of issues. And it's important that that continue. But, again, I'm refraining from comment on things that some might interpret as a comment directly on the Flinn case.

Q I just want to clarify something on Kennedy-Hatch. You say that the President has spoken to Senator Daschle after he made the statement on the floor of the Senate. Was the White House surprised by his position, and did Senator Daschle indicate whether he would change his position after talking to the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I mean, Senator Daschle is very capable of, you know, representing his own views. I think he did represent his views on the Senate floor. I think the President just thought it important to touch base and make sure that the Minority Leader understands exactly the nature of the very strong views communicated to him today by the Republican leadership of the Senate.

Q He seems to be out of touch with his own Democratic leaders.

MR. MCCURRY: Not at all. I just said he talked by phone to Senator Daschle, so obviously he's not out of touch.

Q They're not supporting him.

Q Has he made other calls on that subject, Kennedy-Hatch?

MR. MCCURRY: He's had other phone calls and has been following the debate, yes.

Q Did he talk to Senator Lott?

MR. MCCURRY: Pretty clearly, yes. If you can't read between the lines of what I'm saying, I don't think you're --

Q It sounded like Lott called the President and the President --

MR. MCCURRY: You're not that brain-dead from two straight hours of briefing. (Laughter.)

Q Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: All right, an objection in the corner here. Anything else?

Q What's your an announcement?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, these are two I just wanted -- we've got paper on both of these, but two that I'd like to do personally because they're happy news.

President Clinton has named John Kornblum as Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. For those of you who don't know John Kornblum, he's been most recently the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs at the State Department. He's a very talented, very, very capable career U.S. diplomat with the rank of Career Minister in the Foreign Service. And this Press Secretary is delighted to see career Foreign Service people promoted to the rank of ambassador. That's a trend maybe we can do some more of around here. (Laughter.)

And secondly, we have got another announcement that I'm happy to make, which is the President's naming Mark Grossman as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs at the Department of State.

Q Who?

MR. MCCURRY: Mark Grossman, who was the Executive Secretary of the Department first under Secretary of State Christopher, then was promoted to U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, which he has served -- he's still in Turkey currently. He is now the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. He will return to the State Department to run European and Canadian Affairs for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Happy news that I'm happy to call personally to your attention.

Q So, Mike that means the log jam is broken now? We can expect a whole spate of ambassadorial --

MR. MCCURRY: I think you're -- I think that they're moving some of these through the pipeline now. And I think it particularly important that some of the career folks who have done such a capable job for the U.S. Foreign Service are getting the recognition, the promotions, the opportunity to serve that they deserve.

Q Mike, curious question about tomorrow -- is the guy who the school is named for going to be traveling there with us?

MR. MCCURRY: Is Senator Byrd -- I think that's depending on action on the Senate floor, which is undetermined at this point. I know -- I've been told that he very much wants to be, obviously, but I think that, as you know, he is certainly a creature of the Senate on behalf of the people of West Virginia, and he will most likely be there if he believes that's what the people of West Virginia need. And there's at least some chance at the last I've heard that the Senate's in session with votes tomorrow.

Okay, thank you. See you. No briefing here tomorrow obviously. And Mr. Toiv on the trip tomorrow.

What time do you leave tomorrow?

MR. TOIV: Oh, 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. -- something like that. Do you want to know when the press leaves or --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Do we have time to do a gaggle here in the morning or do we not need to do a gaggle?

Q Yes, yes, yes.

MR. MCCURRY: You're not going tomorrow, are you? You can tell. (Laughter.)

MR. TOIV: Press charter departs at 10:00 a.m.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, press charter departs at 10:00 a.m., so I guess we will do a gaggle here in the morning if there's anyone who wants to see us in the morning. And Mr. Toiv will be on the trip. We'll be back here at our regularly scheduled time on Friday.

Q Where will you be?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll be here working on the important matters of state that we deal with every day so I can bring you all the latest from the White House.

Q And that's going to disappoint a lot of people in West Virginia. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: They didn't ask me to moderate the town hall. Otherwise, I would have -- okay, thanks.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 4:04 P.M. EDT