THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:15 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and thank you, Gene. Other subjects?
Q Mike, we're hearing that Secretary Cohen is coming over to the White House to meet with the President.
MR. MCCURRY: I hadn't heard that. Can you guys check that?
Q Well, he's here.
MR. MCCURRY: They have lunch with Berger and others on a regular basis, usually at the first of the week. But as far as the matter involving General Ralston, it's just as the Pentagon has told most of your news organizations, Secretary Cohen is continuing to look at the matter and has talked to General Ralston. And I don't have anything to add to what they've already said at the Pentagon.
Q Mike, the disaster aid bill is now either here --
MR. MCCURRY: It's not here yet.
Q Well, it's on its way. Do you expect him to -- according to the Senate, it's on its way now.
MR. MCCURRY: I expect him to veto it when he gets here. I don't think you'll see him in connection with that. We'll probably have some type of written statement on it.
MR. MCCURRY: If we get it today.
Q You did say this morning that you expected some recommendation from the Defense Secretary today.
MR. MCCURRY: That's been updated during the course of the day, as most of you have reported, by the Pentagon.
Q Can you tell us what's happening on it, whether the President has sent any advice over to Cohen on whether --
MR. MCCURRY: We've been -- the Secretary and others at the Pentagon have just kept us abreast of what's going on, but I think they've done the same with you.
Q Mike, why wouldn't the White House, and specifically the President, come out and make known his very strong views about disaster relief if that's -- I mean, that was the indication all along, was that when this happened the President would come out and talk.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't rule that out, but we'll see what time we actually get this document. Apparently, there is some suggestion it's on the way here, but there was a suggestion it was on the way here Friday, too, and it's still not here yet.
Q On disaster, you talked a little bit this morning about what you think eventually will happen. The President is going to veto this today as soon as it hits his desk. What eventually down the road do you see happening?
MR. MCCURRY: I think eventually politics is going to yield to the need for disaster relief for individuals and communities that need it. And that's clearly what the choice is here. It's an effort by the Republican Congress to attach some things politically that they want to a bill that is aimed at disaster relief for people who need disaster relief. And the President could not have been clearer in what he would do. He will send it right back up to them, so they can pass a clean bill and get on with getting those people the help they need.
Q Well, FEMA is still -- isn't having any problems delivering individual assistance. How big a problem --
MR. MCCURRY: They can take care of emergency situations with the aid that's in the pipeline, but what they can't do is do the kind of long-term work to rebuild communities, to relocate homes, to help businesses restart. They can do some of the things that traditionally the Small Business Administration and FEMA do, but some of the other federal agencies that have been involved, particularly the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Agriculture Department, some of the others, who are able to enter into disaster situation under more unique circumstances -- that funding is now tied up. And Congress knows that, and we don't understand the further delay required in getting on with legislation. We would have preferred to have this veto message back up there bright and early this morning so that they could get on to work writing another bill.
Q Could you give us one good, concrete example of someone who is suffering as a result --
MR. MCCURRY: There has been a lot in the record up in Congress on it. One good example is the one that Senator Daschle used -- there is a lot of money in there for debris, clearing off of fields that need to be planted. We're probably getting towards the end of the spring planting season, so there will be a lot of farmers, some of them I've seen reported on some of your own broadcasts who are not able to get out and get the assistance they need to continue their rotation of planting for the spring.
There are a lot of communities where people who have been looking for economic development money to attract businesses back in that otherwise are relocating are not being able to do any planting connected to that money. Yes, some of this money is in the pipeline, but a lot of the work of rebuilding areas that have been devastated by flood damage in particular is a long-term process. They'll be at this six months, a year from now, and part of that requires the kind of planning and the certainty of what type of federal assistance will be available, and there's none of that certainty now.
Q Do you think that the flood in Montana is going to give a little added umph to your position?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's a reminder that there are --we're dealing with natural disasters and we're now into hurricane season, too, so a lot of the funding that is there that would otherwise be necessary between now and the end of the fiscal year is being quickly drawn on, and that funding needs to be replenished with this supplemental assistance.
Q Mike, are both the provisions equally objectionable -- the government shutdown and the census -- they're both untenable in and of themselves?
MR. MCCURRY: They both are identical in one respect; they've got no business being on this bill. They have to do with political issues that can get solved elsewhere. And we are more than happy to work with the Republican Congress to address those concerns, both on the census, on the funding mechanism for a continuing resolution. And as we say and have said over and over again, we don't believe it has any bearing on a bill that should be for emergency supplemental purposes.
Q A follow-up on that. If the President were to receive a new bill that had x-ed out the business about the continued resolution but did include a census provision, would that be equally objectionable?
MR. MCCURRY: That's just playing the same game, and it's the same game of chicken, and it has no business tying up the effort to get the assistance of people who need it.
Q Can I follow on that? You know, there have been several instances in the last few months where the President has expressed pleasure at how well he's been able to work with this Congress, going back as far as minimum wage and Kennedy-Kassebaum and other things that they've done. There have been several times when the President actually seemed to feel that he was getting along fairly well with this divided government. What happened? What's gone wrong? Is this a significant turn?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think this is an effort probably that people in the Republican Caucus can explain better to you, but I think it's an effort by the Congress to try to adapt somewhat to the reality of a divided government, and they're doing it in somewhat --with sort of fits and starts. They haven't really figured out exactly how they want to work through some of the things on their agenda.
But, on balance, the message they're getting back from the American people we think is pretty clear. The American people want to see Congress and the President work together. They don't like to see this kind of games-playing; they like to see people get down to business. And I think the American people understand very clearly when the President says we don't want to gum up a disaster bill with things that have to do with wholly separate issues, that that is a problem.
We just got the veto message in, the President -- the White House received HR 1469, the Flood Relief Supplemental Appropriations Bill at 1:50 p.m. The President vetoed it at 2:09 p.m., and the car left to take it back up to the Hill at 2:18 p.m.
Q With his signature?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. And the veto message we'll have available at the end of the briefing.
Q But, Mike, no plans --
MR. MCCURRY: No plans to bring -- no plans yet. The veto message speaks for itself and is very, very strong.
Q Arrival time again?
MR. MCCURRY: It got down here at 1:50 p.m., the President vetoed it at 2:09 p.m. and the car left to take it back to Capitol Hill at 2:18 p.m.
Q What happens now?
MR. MCCURRY: And the President urges in his veto message, urges the Congress to "remove these extraneous provisions and to send me a straightforward disaster relief bill that I can sign promptly so that we can help hard-hit American families and businesses as they struggle to rebuild. Americans in need should not have to endure further delay."
Q Mike, on the subject of General Ralston, I'm a little confused. Yesterday we had sources or some of the nation's most distinguished newspapers quoting sources who sounded an awful lot like Secretary Cohen, his very own self, predicting that General Ralston would be withdrawing from consideration today. That doesn't seem to have happened. Can you -- were we misled originally, or what's going on here?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I don't know who their sources were.
Q Let me help on this. Your source -- you, this morning, said that you expected a decision on this today.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I said I expected there would be further contact with the White House today and there was further contact.
Q Okay, so what we're planning on right now is we don't know when a decision --
MR. MCCURRY: If you want to follow this story, you should hop a cab and go over to the Pentagon. Best thing to do. (Laughter.)
Q Do you have a sense of how viable the cloning legislation the President is sending --
MR. MCCURRY: I think we have already -- you've seen similar types of measures introduced by a bipartisan set of members in both the House and the Senate, some taking somewhat different points of view, but all of them I think generally embracing a ban on human cloning that is consistent with the recommendation the President received and that he recommended to the Hill today. So it's -- the cab fare is only like about $6.50 or so. (Laughter.) You can expense it, I think.
So they're going to have, we think, based on the fact that there have been similar types of measures introduced, that there will be broad bipartisan support for the legislation the President suggested today.
Q One other question, different question -- do you have a sense -- the FAA has been without an administrator for a long time. Do you expect one to be appointed?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect both the administrator and deputy administrator to be recommended fairly soon.
Q Do you know why it's taken so long?
MR. MCCURRY: Because it takes time to clear off a lot of these appointments and put them through the vetting process that's sufficient to meet the tests of the Senate as it advises and consents.
Q On cloning, why a civil instead of criminal penalty?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't hear that addressed. I'd have to check. I just didn't hear that question addressed.
Q The independent counsel has filed something in court, a footnote to which suggests that he has asked the President in a letter to ask Susan McDougal to testify. Any reaction?
MR. MCCURRY: I understand Mr. Kendall, the President's attorney, has not had a reaction to that.
Q Is the President off his cane, and did he have lunch with Norman today or have some sort of meeting with Norman?
MR. MCCURRY: He has been, from time to time, here in the White House, but not outside the White House, walking a little bit without his cane and doing so, so far, with good result. Mr. Norman and his family were down here for a tour arranged by the Visitors Office, and the President got wind of that and asked them to come over for a brief visit in the Oval Office, I guess late morning, early afternoon.
Q Any idea if they chatted about the Kemper?
MR. MCCURRY: No doubt did. I haven't talked to the President to get his full readout on the discussion, but I'm sure they talked golf and knee. Apparently, the President was demonstrating for Mr. Norman how well he was recuperating, and no doubt Mr. Norman was pleased to hear that.
Q One other one on that. You know the President -- there has been a lot made of his golf interview in which he called on private courses to open to the public in some form. The course he would have played on, the Medalist, is strictly private. Do you know if he has ever made a recommendation to Norman to open it up in some fashion to the public?
MR. MCCURRY: It's private, although my understanding is that they have a fairly liberalized guest policy and have had a lot of different types of Americans play as guests. And there is a distinction between private and public courses. I think the President understands, as do most who play on public courses, that there is a shortage of public golf space available and that anything we can do to make more golfing opportunities available for a more diverse group of Americans is a good thing.
Q Mike, as a follow to that, do you expect Mr. Woods to pay a visit to the White House this week?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of anything that would lead me to expect that, no.
Q Do you expect the President to go to the U.S. Open?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate about that. I'm not going to speculate about that. We'll see what develops.
Q Does the poor showing of the Labor Party and the Irish vote mean we don't have to go to Bally Bunion anymore? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the election result was one that, while it's not 100 percent definitive, is one that the United States welcomes and we obviously extend our congratulations to the winning party and to Bertie Ahern. We also extend our appreciation to Prime Minister John Bruton, who has so delicately and courageously led the peace process. There is every indication from the election period in Ireland that the commitment by the Republic of Ireland to the peace process will continue, and, of course, we would encourage that it do continue. And we look forward to working with whatever new government is established on our common goals and objectives, especially with respect to the peace process.
Q Mike, I have a question about the attorney notes case that's going up to the Supreme Court. The White House has maintained that it has no concern about the contents of those notes being revealed, it's just the principle that's at stake. So I was wondering if the President would be willing to pledge that once the litigation is resolved and the principle is adjudicated that he'd release those notes publicly.
MR. MCCURRY: I am not going to speak to that question. I think that the President's attorney have, if I'm not mistaken, but you should in any event direct the question to the Counsel's Office and they will help you. There may have been a reference in some of the pleadings on that matter to exactly that point. But I'd want to go back and check, I wouldn't want to attempt to wing a question.
Q Why is the President confident that Congress has the authority to ban cloning?
MR. MCCURRY: Why is he confident that they --
Q On what grounds?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the legislation speaks to -- it codifies some of the things we've done on federal research, which, of course, they can control the funding. I think there is also --
Q I'm talking about for private corporations -- why are they able to ban private corporations from --
MR. MCCURRY: What's the legal authority? Let me see if I can get a precise answer to that.
Q Mike, is some of the reason -- back to Tiger Woods -- some of the reason that he's not been penciled in yet because possibly of that application statement that he made?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not at all. Look, there have been a lot of members of the tour who are in town, have been down here. Nick Faldo was in the other night and happened to stop by. And the President, obviously, given his love of the game and his interest in the tour, if he hears of some of the touring pros are down here for a visit or taking a tour, he usually tries to figure out a way to say hello; though some have been here that he has not been able to see. And to my knowledge, Mr. Woods hasn't expressed any interest in coming down. And that's fine with us. You know, this guy's got a lot on his mind, he's a young guy and if he wants to concentrate on winning the U.S. Open I think that probably is pretty good sense on his part.
Q Several questions from 60 Minutes: Should the federal government reevaluate its funding of the Citadel in the wake of some apparent Nazi-like behavior there? And should the federal government, or does the federal government plan to look into various larger questions of racial intolerance? And when are you going to appoint that commission?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will address the latter subject, as you know, on Saturday. And I'll look into the other thing and phone whatever producer kindly provided the question to you with the answer.
Q You can give it to me, I'll pass it along.
Q The meeting with Secretary Cohen, who was involved in that meeting? Was the President involved in that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: You mean today? Did he come up for the regular weekly lunch?
MS. LUZZATTO: It was a regular weekly lunch. He was scheduled to come and I assume that's why he came.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. We'll run that down. They may very well have done the other subjects that they would routinely do and not have talked about this particular matter -- although, we have talked to the Secretary, Mr. Berger has talked to the Secretary; we've had some staff to staff contact with the Secretary of Staff, as well.
Q Mike, do you have a readout on the meeting with the labor leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: Not beyond what they provided and what Mr. Sweeney provided. It was a good opportunity to review some of the issues that are on the international economic agenda. Some of the leaders raised concerns that are specific to the countries in which they work to organize workers. They had a general discussion about trends in the global economy. The President, not surprisingly, bragged a little bit about the current performance of the U.S. economy. And, beyond that, I think Mr. Sweeney gave a pretty good rundown.
Q Will the President be raising the case of the Indonesian labor leader that's jailed at the G-7?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- certainly have only looked briefly at the agenda during the portion of the discussion about worker rights issues. If they get into substance of country by country, it's very likely he would raise that, but I don't recall seeing anything in which they got that specific on general issues. Now, we have raised those concerns very directly with the government of Indonesia and other international fora as appropriate.
Q Some of the labor leaders when we were out there earlier indicated the President supported bringing their concerns --putting them on the agenda of the summit, particularly on what they called the social deficit versus the fiscal deficit, which they think people have made enough progress on.
MR. MCCURRY: They're anticipating a very vibrant discussion about job creation and balancing social insurance needs versus expansion policies -- macroeconomic expansionary policies. I think the President does foresee a discussion in which that will be addressed.
That is not a surprise and so a large part of his private discussions with Prime Minister Blair were exactly on that point. He talked with Chancellor Kohl about exactly that kind of question the other night. How these large industrial economies expand and continue to grow and at the same time provide a better quality of life for all of their citizens, particularly working people at lower ends of the economic scale has been a principal concern that this President has had and he sees that that kind of concern is shared by the governments that we work with in the summit format. So, not surprisingly, I think they will devote time to that, and my guess is, a large part of that discussion will be in the period that the leaders devote for their private, informal dialogue without a lot of their ministers around.
Q Back to the disaster relief veto. Can you explain one more time why, given how strong the President feels about this, why he wouldn't come out and say here's what I'm doing, this is why I'm doing it?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to do that, and we've got a strong statement that's now available and he will have
Q I'm sorry, I mean like come out in the briefing room like he occasionally does.
MR. MCCURRY: He chooses when and where and how and why to make statements like that.
Q Are you afraid that that could poison the atmosphere if you overly became public over it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we've got a pretty strong statement out there and had what we had to say in it.
MR. MCCURRY: The President tomorrow looks forward to talking again about the importance of setting national standards when it comes to educating young people in the country. He is going to put a particular focus on the education of young people in the math curriculum and talk about the performance of students in the United States on the TIMSS test. That's the Third International Math and Science Study test, known as the TIMSS test. We expect to have some things to report tomorrow on how we're doing that and, more importantly, the President broadly will make a case again that we have to hold ourselves to internationally recognized standards so that we know how we are doing in the increasingly competitive global economy when it comes to preparing our kids for the challenges they'll face in the marketplace of the 21st century.
Q When and where is that going to be?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be tomorrow in the -- I think they're thinking about moving it out to the Rose Garden, depending on the weather. There is a debate about when and where, but it's late morning.
Q Anything else on race before Saturday?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but we'll be giving you later in the week, probably towards the end of the week, a little better preview of what to expect for the weekend.
Q What about the advisory panels? Are you going to appoint those before Saturday? Announce those?
MR. MCCURRY: It's possible that some of the names will start --
Q But will you put them out? I mean, would there be a formal presentation?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, would I? No. Would some of my colleagues? Maybe.
Q You don't expect a public official announcement of the commission before Saturday?
MR. MCCURRY: Might happen late in the week, like Thursday or Friday, but not before then.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:37 P.M. EDT