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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 22, 1997
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

9:42 A.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: The President is looking forward to his journey today to West Virginia. He plans to do today, at the Education Town Meeting at Robert C. Byrd High School, exactly what he has been doing as he's traveled around the country thus far this year promoting his call for national education standards and tests. He'll reiterate the importance of that, talk about the proficiency standards for 4th grade reading, 8th grade mathematics that we consider a vital part of building a world class public education system for the 21st century.

And then he will warmly welcome the announcement by Governor Cecil Underwood that West Virgnia will sign up and participate in the testing program that the President has recommended. We're also going to hear today from Massachusetts Governor William Weld that Massachusetts will also be participating -- responding to the President's challenge. Good news on both fronts.

Q Does that make four?

MR. MCCURRY: That makes five total, plus --

Q -- count California?

MR. MCCURRY: -- five total, plus the Department of Defense schools, which is obviously a large education system. We're also today --

Q -- California?

MR. MCCURRY: We count -- we put California in the "getting there" category because of the commitment of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. She is working closely with the legislature to try to prescribe the right way to formally enter into a testing program. There's been a lot of discussion of the issue in California. It's not a done deal, but it's gettable.

Q There's no limit on the questions, is there?

MR. MCCURRY: No limit on the questions, although this audience -- to be candid about the audience -- the audience is 160 parents, teachers, students, community leaders, business leaders. There are some members of the state legislature participating. They were selected by a local task force that was organized to sponsor the event. So, I would -- by no means would we offer this as a random sample of West Virgnia. These are people who are community leaders, student leaders, active parents, teachers who are widely recognized -- all interested in education. And obviously, the purpose was to make sure we have a good, vigorous discussion of education today.

Q Do any of his remarks represent new initiatives or additions to what is already on the public record?

MR. MCCURRY: His -- the only, I guess, new-new aspect of this today is going to be -- there will actually be some very specific discussions of the kind of testing elements that we foresee for the 4th grade reading and 8th grade mathematics component. You will actually see a demonstration of what the reading test will look like. And I think a 4th grader is going to actually participate.

Q Is the federal government writing the test?

MR. MCCURRY: No, these are -- the tests have been developed by the National Assessment of Educational Programs. Those are the -- that's a widely recognized -- National Assessment of Educational Progress -- correct. And those testing standards have been developed, vetted thoroughly in the community. This is not federally prescribed tests. These are national standards that have been developed in dialogue with national leaders in education reform.

Q Are you going to set like he has with welfare x-number of states by x-day as a goal -- like he said for welfare -- he wants x-number of jobs by the year 2000?

MR. MCCURRY: We have not set that specific goal. We clearly are working hard to get as many states as possible to participate in testing by the time it becomes available in the '98-'99 school year.

Q Is the President sorry that he killed the tax hike for needy children?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is delighted that a balanced budget agreement that will cover 5 million uninsured children and preserve $16 billion to do so is moving towards final passage in the Senate.

Q How about the rest of the children who are needy?

MR. MCCURRY: We know that -- know and believe that covering them too will remain a priority and with that respect, the approach suggested by Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch may prove very useful.

Q What will he do --

MR. MCCURRY: Let me go back and answer West Virginia again. We also are going to hear from the National Alliance of Business today about their endorsement of the efforts to initiate voluntary national tests. And the President will be delighted with the support we get from the Alliance.

Q Mike, how could the administration have left -- sent such mixed signals to the Hill yesterday about whether it supported Kennedy? Even the members themselves stood on the floor and said, no, he's supporting me; no, he's supporting me. How could that happen?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the premise of the question is incorrect. There were no mixed signals.

Q Well, does the President support this or not?

MR. MCCURRY: The President, as -- I answered that question yesterday. It's in the transcript.

Q What will he do the next time this is attached to some other piece of legislation?

MR. MCCURRY: It depends on what the legislation is and what the circumstances are of an amendment being offered.

Q How do you think he --

Q Was Vice President Gore prepared to go to the Hill?

Q How does he look?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he looks like a President that worked with Congressional majority -- the Republican Party to achieve a historic balanced budget agreement. We're making good on the commitments that we made to get that agreement. That agreement is standing and it's passing by overwhelming margins of support from both the Republican and Democratic sides of the --

Q -- in terms of children in this country?

MR. MCCURRY: The President will stand very well in the eyes of the American public as someone who fought hard to cover 5 million uninsured children in the balanced budget agreement that was passed.

Q Does the President see -- think that he's been seen -- has left Senators Kennedy and Hatch hanging out there?


Q Does he think the idea of the tax itself is a good idea?

MR. MCCURRY: He has proposed a similar tax in the context of health care reform. He believes that curbing tobacco use by American consumers is a good thing generally and specifically has promoted efforts to do so among young people, as you know. So, as I said yesterday, both objectives of the legislation -- covering the uninsured and curbing tobacco use -- are worthy objectives.

I handled all these questions yesterday, to be honest with you.

Q When it was proposed before, it was in the context of comprehensive health care reform. What about as a free-standing measure -- health care reform?

MR. MCCURRY: As a free-standing measure, it has merits, as I said yesterday. I stick with my answer yesterday.

Q What you said yesterday doesn't apply to action that was taken yesterday. You spoke before the action.

MR. MCCURRY: I think I spoke after the action that counted yesterday.

Q After they voted to table it, Senators Kennedy and Hatch came up to the press gallery and Senator Hatch told us, what really cost us today was the President of the United States. They just didn't have the guts to come out and stand up for children.

MR. MCCURRY: What really cost Senator Hatch was the leader of his party indicating that this was a deal breaker and that he would pull the budget resolution down if the Kennedy-Hatch amendment passed, to be candid about it.

Q Well, why wasn't the President willing to risk that since clearly Lott would have blamed for that?

MR. MCCURRY: Because a balanced budget agreement that includes 5 million covered kids at a cost of $16 billion with all the other worthy objectives of the balanced budget amendment is a very important historic achievement of this Congress and this President. And it was important to make good on that commitment and move that legislation forward, obviously.

Q So, you're basically saying that, in the future, if there's something the President wants and the leader says to him, this is a deal breaker, this piece of legislation's not going to go on?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that.

Q Why do you think that's not going to happen?

Q Yes, why do you think that's not going to happen?

MR. MCCURRY: Because there's a limit to everyone's ability to make that argument.

Q Did the President say that to Lott?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go into the private conversation he had with the Majority Leader.

Q Mike, on another subject, in the President's meeting yesterday with the Black Caucus, did he get any new ideas that he might quote in his speech on June 14th to try to bring the country together?

MR. MCCURRY: He had a good conversation with them about it. And I think they wanted to hear more about his thinking as he prepares for that speech, which the President thinks will be a significant speech. They had good exchange of views on a number of items. The President made the point -- and it was a good point -- that the agenda that the Congressional Black Caucus is pursuing in this session of Congress reflects a lot of the deep racial divisions that exist in our society and suggest that there needs to be an overall effort to address the subject of race in American society. And I think members of the Caucus appreciated that sentiment.

And we agreed to do some follow-up work with the Caucus as we prepare for that speech. The President didn't tip his hand at all about the nature of any specific suggestions he'll have on June 14th, but it was a good dialogue.

Q Any other reach out plans he has?

MR. MCCURRY: He's been doing -- and our task force working on this -- have been doing considerable outreach among minority communities. This is a speech that will be about race, but we understand and believe that there are a number of elements of our society that face discrimination from those who discriminate against based on sexual orientation, those who face discrimination because of disability. There are numbers of ways that we need to deal with that central question of discrimination in our society. But this will be a subject that deals specifically with racial prejudice, bigotry and discrimination.

Q -- you said the President didn't tip his hand, but my sense was that he did not also -- he gave a general commitment, but did not give a date certain to either a commission on race or a White House conference on race. Do you have a sense of dates --

MR. MCCURRY: You did good reporting.

Q -- have a date?

Q -- a date certain?

MR. MCCURRY: We do not. We're still looking at those questions.

Q Mike, will you be meeting -- well, will the President be meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus -- I mean, not the Congressional -- Congressional Hispanic Caucus very soon over this race issue too?

MR. MCCURRY: We just did recently.

Q I mean, but over the race issue, will you be talking to them?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's among some of the discussion points they had when they met. But we will continue an active dialogue with them, sure.

Q Mike, if the Senate Republicans are successful in getting three more votes supporting their partial birth abortion bill, will the President be likely to still veto it when it comes along?

MR. MCCURRY: His views on that subject haven't changed.

Q Has there been any movement on fast track? Is there any chance that legislation's going to get up to the Hill?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there's a strong likelihood that legislation will get to the Hill this year.

Q What about before summer or by --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to predict timing. It's under active discussion right now within the administration and between the administration and Capitol Hill.

Q Just following up on that -- last Friday that an option to -- submitted to the President. Has any decision been made on that option --

MR. MCCURRY: There's been a lot of work done on that, and we're moving ahead.

Q Just a little bit on housekeeping. Is he still down tomorrow or is anything being added on his schedule?

MR. MCCURRY: What's our schedule tomorrow? Anybody know? I think I would stay alert to any action on the Hill. And if they finish a balanced budget -- the budget resolution tomorrow, it's conceivable to me, the President may want to say something about it. But we have nothing scheduled at this point.

Q Might that turn into something like a news conference or an impromptu news conference?

MR. MCCURRY: Hard to say.

Q How about a radio address?

MR. MCCURRY: They're working on a subject that would be of interest to you all, and I think we plan to tape tomorrow and make it available prior to the weekend.

Q -- on the trip?

MR. MCCURRY: No, not today.

Q What's the subject?

Q No, he meant -- next trip to --

MR. MCCURRY: No, the proposed topic is not, but we haven't finalized the topic at this point.

Q What is the proposed one?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to tell you until we have got something to announce.

Q Mike --


Q Mike, does it --

MR. MCCURRY: How could I have missed?

Q Mike, does the President intend to replace Ambassador Indyk?

MR. MCCURRY: He's got -- I mean, he adores Martin Indyk. He thinks he's been a very effective representative there. There will be a natural cycle of changing over. I've got nothing over to announce about that post. There's some speculation on the wire. I think the speculation sounds pretty good to me. And it recognizes the talents of a number of people.

Q -- you speculate?

Q -- the new one be?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- it's on one of the wires, obviously not yours. I'm sorry.

Q As long as you're in that -- Mike, as long as you're in that area --

Q Just a thought -- just a thought -- is it linked to the -- problem with the peace process?


Q Another area, Mike. Anything on the arrest of Daoud Kuttab?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it's our understanding that Mr. Kuttab has not been charged with any infractions, and we are very concerned about the implications of his detention both for the rule of law and for freedom of the press. We believe the Palestinian Authority should release him immediately. We've raised the matter with senior levels of the Palestinian Authority. Chairman Arafat has actually been travelling, so we have not been able to raise it directly with him. But I believe our Consul General Ed Abington will do so as soon as Mr. Arafat returns to Gaza.

And we also plan, through the Consul General in Jerusalem to seek an opportunity to see Mr. Kuttab. He is well-known to many journalists, even U.S. journalists who work in that region. And we are very concerned about his detention.

Q Mike, what about the issue beyond Kuttab's detention -- the jamming of signals -- television signals that apparently led to his detention in the first place?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we are -- we have been working that issue through the Consul General as well, if I'm not mistaken. We've had dialogue with the Palestinian Authority about that and expressed our concerns. State has, I think even yesterday, briefed more on that. So, go back and check their transcript on that.

Q Is the United States disappointed at that the Palestinian Authority is not a more democratic or open organization?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I've just expressed our concern about this particular case. And we continue to urge the Authority to make -- proceed with those reforms that will liberalize the economic conditions in the territories and also lead to greater freedoms and greater opportunities for the Palestinian people.

Q Do you regard this as one isolated incident, or are you concerned that this is part of a trend?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to suggest it's part of a trend, but it's of sufficient concern that we've raised it in the fashion that I've indicated.

Q -- fast track -- Speaker Gingrich recently said that they need 90 Democratic House votes in order to get this thing passed. Is number one to you agreed? Do you accept that suggestion by Speaker Gingrich that 90 House votes are needed? And number two, is that the reason for the delay in fast track, because Ms. Barshefsky has failed to round up 90 votes for a fast track proposal that will -- both Republicans and Democrats?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think -- I'll leave it to the Speaker to speak to what the dynamics are. We are concessing when best to move forward with fast track legislation. And we'll do so when we think the opportunity is right to get what the President needs in order to protect the economic interest of Americans.

Q It's the White House view then that you need to get at least a significant number of Democrats to support it before you can send it up?

MR. MCCURRY: The White House view is that when we send it up there, we ought to be in a position to win.

Q Is the labor and environment stuff holding it up?

MR. MCCURRY: Say it again.

Q Is the labor and environment issues on it holding it up as well?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, not directly. I mean, what -- the environment for passing fast track legislation needs to improve, and we've got to work hard to improve it. But those are -- the central concerns are labor and environmental concerns. I think everyone knows that. The issues are pretty well-known. They're similar to the issues we fought through with respect to NAFTA. But the wisdom of that decision by the Congress is now reflected in the performance of the U.S. economy. And we will continue to make that argument, make it vigorously. And we're confident that the environment for passage will be favorable when we move forward.

Q Mike, in the past, the President has said on certain pieces of legislation he wants a majority of both parties -- a majority of Democrats. Is this one of them?

MR. MCCURRY: It's -- we want to be able to win the argument at the end of the day.

Q -- can? It doesn't matter if --

MR. MCCURRY: We want to win the argument at the end of the day, and obviously, we want to -- we'd be delighted if we had strong majorities on both sides of the aisle.

Q What I'm saying -- why is that --

MR. MCCURRY: Look, you guys -- I'm -- you're not going to pin me down on timing, so let's move on.

Q At the beginning of the year, President Clinton mentioned fast track a number of times, then seemed to go kind of quiet on it, then it got brought back up. But you still didn't have your timings down on when to introduce it. -- a mistake to bring up fast track and to publicly call for it repeatedly?

MR. MCCURRY: No, we needed -- we had to make it very clear what our intentions were because there are a number in hemisphere and, in fact, around the world who are wanting to know whether our commitment to free trade would remain strong in a second term. It was important to give the world assurances that it would obviously remain strong because it's a key element of the economic progress we've seen in the last four and half years.

Q Mike -- there any movement on an FDA Commissioner?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea.

Q Will the President -- talking about education today and also trying to get computers in every school in America -- there was a recent study that said minority and poor schools are having a problem with computers. Is the President going to --

MR. MCCURRY: He was aware of that. In fact, I don't know if it was called to his attention or whether he saw it himself, but he's well aware of that problem. And one of the aspects of our work to make sure every classroom has access to the Internet is work especially with those school districts that are facing economic difficulty. You may want to -- or have someone else -- talk to Dick Riley later today about this. I think we're going to have a way of making him available up in West Virginia. The Department of Education's been doing a fair amount on that issue.

Q -- going -- which goes back to last night's Caucus meeting -- they still seem to be disappointed that they weren't able to get the appropriate money for school construction.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're disappointed too. I mean, we would have preferred to have that funding in a balanced budget agreement. But that's one of the things that we're not able to get in the final agreement. And we'll have to figure out other ways that we can address the needs of those school districts that have got some serious infrastructure problems and that need funding. But it couldn't be done in this agreement.

Q -- down the road?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not contained in the supplemental that's currently under discussion.

Q What about in a different supplemental bill?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll have to see on that. That's down the road.

Q -- pretty much dead?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not in the balanced budget agreement. So, to get the funding is going to require some -- a different approach. But it obviously will remain a key concern of the administration, and we'll continue to work with those who believe it's an important and worthy investment for the future.

Q Does Mr. -- Minority Leader Gephardt's apparent decision to come out strongly against China MFN -- does that give you any cause for concern about how many Democrats might support that and whether that -- the resolution of disapproval might actually pass the House?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be lots of vigorous debate on this issue and individuals will make up their minds based on the strengths of the arguments presented. And our job is to present the strongest possible argument for normal trade relations with China.

Q Is the President concerned that he seems alienated from the Democratic leadership on the Hill?

MR. MCCURRY: There's no conceivable way you could believe that given the quantity things we're working about. There are a couple of isolated issues in which we've got one disagreement or the other. That's not unusual.

But look at what we've achieved so far this year. We've gotten a balanced budget agreement through with the overwhelming support of the Democratic caucuses in the House and we believe in the Senate as well. And we've gotten bipartisan support and worked together with the Democratic and Republican leaders to pass the Chemical Weapons Convention. And we're moving forward on aspects of welfare reform. And we're making significant progress on the President's education initiative. All those things the President laid out in the State of the Union back in January one way or another we're moving forward on, and we're doing so in most cases because we've enjoyed strong support from the Democratic leaders in Congress.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCURRY: Don't characterize the relationship -- I would not characterize the relationship based on one or two issues in which there is some disagreement.

Q Well, what about when you look ahead to MFN, fast track -- the things that are coming up?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, those are issues where we're going to have to make the case, as we always have, by winning the argument on both sides of the aisle. We live -- we have cohabitation here in Washington. We have a Congress that's Republican.

Q But if you don't have a Democratic leader who's carrying the ball --

MR. MCCURRY: What -- that we -- so what? We've still got strong -- did we not just get 132 Democratic votes in the House for a balanced budget agreement?

Q You don't need --

MR. MCCURRY: Do results not speak for themselves?

Q One thing, Mike, some Democrats in the Senate are saying is, the Republicans are proceeding with this stop-gap funding measure, and why wasn't it okay yesterday for the Senate to consider without the White House sort of signaling that it would walk away from the balanced budget deal with the Kennedy-Kassebaum measure?

Q Kennedy-Hatch.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't understand the question. That was not an element of the discussion related to the supplemental bill.

Q No, but what they're saying is, why did the White House need to signal that they wanted nothing to do with Kennedy-Hatch? Why could you just let that go on on its own?

MR. MCCURRY: Because, as I've told you, it was made very clear to us that that would imperil the agreement and cause the Majority Leader to reconsider moving ahead on the agreement. Bottom line.

Q Would Gore have voted if it were a tie?

MR. MCCURRY: Hypothetical, I'm not going to speculate.

Q Mike -- following the ongoing reports about the dismissal of the DC Whitewater grand jury and, in fact, there are tapes being played to that effect, and whether or not those tapes may be compromising the secrecy of the process?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I haven't.

Okay, see you.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 10:05 A.M.