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Office of the Press Secretary

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

                           The Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

Q Mike, what's the deal on the Russia summit? Are we going over there next year? They announced that you're going and you say -- you're saying here --

MR. MCCURRY: We said -- what did you tell me -- we have a summit with President Yeltsin every year and look forward to having a summit with him at some time in 1998. The leaders of the 8 agreed in Denver to hold a ministerial meeting on energy issues, which may be where the confusion stems from -- in Moscow in 1998, with the results to be discussed at the next Summit of the 8 in Birmingham. And I do anticipate that President Clinton and President Yeltsin will meet in 1998, as you would expect them to meet, but we have not set a place or a time for said meeting.

Q How about Mir? Why don't you meet on Mir? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: That's an idea. We're entertaining other ideas today. That might not be a bad idea.

Q What's the President doing today, playing golf?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has been over in the residence, has been doing paperwork and making phone calls, I am told -- to whom I have not been told. Enjoying a quiet day here at the White House.

Q Do you think before the congressional recess here in August there could be a budget tax deal with the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress. What are the main problems right now, as far as you see it?

MR. MCCURRY: They have a lot of areas where they're not entirely in agreement.

Q What are they?

MR. MCCURRY: Taxes and spending.

Q Specifically.

MR. MCCURRY: In the areas of taxes, you've seen the President's letter -- he's outlined what he thinks are fundamental principles that must be attached to tax relief measures. The President wants to see the benefits of tax cutting focused on middle income families, first and foremost, and we've got some very specific ideas with respect to that.

Second, he does not want to see any decisions made on the revenue side that would explode the deficit in the out years. And we're quite precise in some of the concerns we have about the various bills that have been presented by the House and the Senate.

And, third, he's got some special interest in making sure we keep the fairness of this tax bill firmly in place by assuring that the lowest income workers, those who are at the bottom end of the wage scale, have got the benefit of the child tax credit. And I think we've outlined those in some specificity. And we do have in spending areas disagreements as well, but we continue to hope we can bridge those differences and get an agreement.

Q Mike, those are the same criteria he's had all along, but what does he think about the movement that the House and Senate negotiators made at the end of last week?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the movement was closer towards each other and further from the White House. And that's our concern. In some respects in some areas they split the difference between the House and the Senate bill and what they really needed to do was move the Senate bill more in the direction of the President. So, in some respects, the movement last week was in the opposite direction from the direction needed for agreement.

Q Would the President veto a bill that doesn't meet the criteria set out in the letter?

MR. MCCURRY: We have not liberally discussed vetoes because we think it's more likely by impressing upon Congress the fundamental principles the President wants to see in a bill we might get some accommodation as a result of the discussions that have been underway. But we clearly are at a point now where we need to kick this process into high gear and make some of those decisions that will result in an acceptable bill. The President clearly will not accept the unacceptable, but I think we've been more than generous in specifying what we consider to be acceptable.

Q Does the so-called coup attempt over the weekend strengthen your hand and weaken the Republicans' hand in negotiations?

MR. MCCURRY: In what country are you referring to? (Laughter.) I'm not a pundit. There was plenty of punditry over the weekend.

Q But, on the other hand, if Gingrich can't forge a tax compromise because he's constrained by his right wing, doesn't that make it more difficult to get that?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, leaders -- the President, bipartisan leaders of Congress have to deal with complicated political environments all the time. But at the end of the day, leaders must lead. The leaders in this case have signed on to a bipartisan balanced budget agreement and that's the agreement that we think in the end will carry the day.

Q Does he have any meetings this week?

Q You emphasize punditry when your own Budget Director was on the Sunday shows this week --

MR. MCCURRY: He's a great pundit.

Q He also works for the President and he also emphasized that he felt fairly -- about the movement over the weekend and its effect on the budget.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm glad you had a chance to catch Director Raines. I thought he was very effective.

Helen, in answer to your question, there are no specific meetings scheduled today, although our Congressional Affairs folks and some of those who participated in meetings Friday night, Saturday and Sunday will remain in contact today, and I suspect they'll be meeting as we go through the week.

Q Has the President gotten a report back from Janet Reno on the disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentencing?

MR. MCCURRY: He has received some recommendations from General McCaffrey and Attorney General Reno. He's considering them now. We are also consulting with Congress. The President has been concerned about the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, and we will continue to carefully review both the recommendation from the Attorney General and General McCaffrey and also consider the advice and counsel we get from members of Congress.

Q How did he respond to the recommendation that they had -- what was their recommendation?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to specify the recommendation. It's still under deliberation by the President; I don't think it would be useful just to speculate about what's in it. But it clearly is not 100 to one; that doesn't make sense, and from a criminal justice perspective, one to one doesn't make any sense either with respect to the ratio and differences between the type of sentencing.

Q Did he like what they recommended?

MR. MCCURRY: He thought it was a very useful recommendation, but again, we are consulting further with Congress.

Q Mike, on that same subject, is the President or some of the White House staffers dealing with the Congressional Black Caucus on that issue, especially since McCaffrey sent the letter to Maxine Waters on that?

MR. MCCURRY: We have had good consultation with the Congressional Black Caucus on that issue, yes, and I believe, among others, we are consulting with members of the Caucus.

Q Are they going to have a strong impact as to what the President actually --

MR. MCCURRY: We will carefully consider views of members of the Caucus.

Q What's new on Weld? Is there an announcement time?

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing, although I anticipate quite shortly that we will formally send the nomination to the Senate.

Q Shortly being today?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm told not today, but soon.

Q On another issue, there's a new study out today that says there's been a change in the racial culture in the deep South. What's the President's feelings on that, especially with this race initiative and Thursday with his two stops at the NABJ and the NAACP?

MR. MCCURRY: A change in the culture?

Q The racial culture in the last 30 years since --

MR. MCCURRY: That's a report that's been issued? I'm just not familiar with it.

Q Yes, the University of Illinois --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar enough with the report to comment on it, but I'm sure, depending on how it's been generated or who generated it, if it's got some serious thinking in it, it will be of interest to the President's advisory board.

Q And also, do you think that the word "tolerance" is not race-relations-friendly in using the race initiative --

MR. MCCURRY: I've heard -- no one has suggested that the President's call for tolerance is anything but encouragement to all Americans to be respectful of the views of others, even though you might not necessarily share those views, as the word implies.

Q Mike, on the situation in New York, with the -- over the weekend some Mexicans, disabled Mexicans, were found in a slave-like situation. Does the administration think Mayor Giuliani was right to intervene and prevent the INS from sending them to jail?

MR. MCCURRY: Kathy, I'd have to go talk to INS folks about that. I haven't seen anything from the Justice Department or from INS that raises any issue with respect to the Mayor's actions. The Mayor very clearly said, I believe, that he was acting to protect people he thought might be fact witnesses for potential illegality. But I'd refer you to the Justice Department and INS.

Q Does the President have any nominations or potential nominations outside Governor Weld that are being held up that he feels unnecessarily or unfairly?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a huge volume of nominations pending in the Senate -- judicial appointments, other appointments -- and we work closely with members of the Senate to try to clear those nominations for action. We also have a number of nominations still in our own internal pipeline here that have to be cleared off once the necessary paperwork is complete and the background checks are done. So it's an ongoing process and we work as collegially as we can with the Senate, probably in the cases of some committees, more collegially than others. But that's the nature of divided government.

Q Is he likely to take advantage of the recess to act on any of them?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on recess appointments.

Q Mike, what's the latest take on the White House in the salmon dispute going on between --

MR. MCCURRY: We've been following the good work the State Department has been doing on that. We've called upon the Canadian government to enforce the court injunction that's been ordered and continue to hope that both sides can amicably resolve the differences that they have got over maritime issues.

Q Do you think that this is going to heat up rather than cool down?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we hope it's peacefully resolved and that the unnecessary hindrance that has been extended to the ferry passengers ends quickly, and that both sides resolve the differences they've got with a minimum of -- certainly a minimum of violence and a minimum of interference with commercial activity.

Q Mike, once the Governor Weld nomination goes forward who's going to shepherd his nomination to the Senate?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it will be a team of people that works on legislative matters both at the State Department and here at the White House. It will require clearly an extensive effort on our part to try to press the case for the nomination.

Q How about over there, who is going to be the senator who is going to walk him around?

MR. MCCURRY: Do you mean who will we work with in the Senate? We will have our supporters and the Governor has his supporters on the Foreign Relations Committee and we'll work closely with them.

Q How do you overcome Jesse Helms' objections?

MR. MCCURRY: It will be difficult, but we hope not impossible.

Q Well, did the Governor help the effort or hurt it with his statement last week about theological problems inside the Republican Party?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on -- he was making an observation about matters in the other party; I don't think I would necessarily want to comment on that here. We expect nominees to work closely with the Senate during the advice and consent process and answer questions directly. That's what we'd expect of any nominee.

Q Do you still believe, however, that Weld's problems stem from an internal GOP feud?

MR. MCCURRY: I suspect that may be part of it, but there are also perhaps concerns that individual members of the Senate have, and part of the process of considering confirmation by the Senate is to address concerns senators may have. We would expect to do that and certainly expect our nominee to do that.

Q Why did you muzzle him?

MR. MCCURRY: We do not allow any nominee whose nomination is pending before the Senate go out and speak in advance of hearings. That's just been generally a practice we've had. We've maintained that with Cabinet-level nominations and others. Now, we also believe people should have the right to defend themselves against attack, particularly unwarranted attacks, but as a general practice, we discourage nominees from scheduling interviews until --

Q Why?

MR. MCCURRY: Because they should properly be considered by the elected representatives of the American people, the United States Senate, which has a constitutional role to advice and consent on a presidential nominations. It's been a long-standing practice of this White House and, I suspect, previous White Houses as well.

Q Mike, just to follow up on my earlier question, would it be the administration's position that, if it were found that these Mexicans in New York had entered the country illegally, that they should be prosecuted and ultimately deported?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- because it's a matter that's likely going to be in litigation, I'm just not going to answer that here. You should really refer that to the Justice Department.

Q Getting back to the budget negotiations, does the White House still believe there should be $85 billion in net tax cuts?

MR. MCCURRY: The President stands by the balanced budget agreement he reached with the bipartisan leadership which calls for a net $85 billion of tax relief.

Q Well, if there's a 20-cent cigarette tax hike, that comes to about $15 billion. What additional tax cuts would you propose to bring it up from $70 to $85 billion?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's June 30th tax cut proposal is fully consistent with the balanced budget agreement, and we stand by that proposal.

Q But the Republicans say that that would lower it from $85 to $70 billion.

MR. MCCURRY: We disagree with them because we do not believe the extension of a child care tax credit to those who pay Social Security and Medicare pay roll taxes is welfare. The Republicans seem to believe that people at the lowest end of the income scale who are working are somehow or other receiving welfare. And we don't believe that. We think that we have extended them tax relief.

Q Well, what kind of tax cut is that, though?

Q If that was put in the column of tax relief instead of spending, it would come out to $85 billion -- is that what you're saying?

MR. MCCURRY: I think -- I'd have to go back and look at the exact numbers, but we've got it all in that paper that we put out.

Q Back on Weld. You said that there are individual members of the Senate who have concerns that should be addressed. Is the White House aware of some of those concerns, and what are they?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been working this process in advance of making the formal nomination. We do have some idea of some of the concerns, and we'll attempt to address those as best we can.

Q What are some of them?

MR. MCCURRY: It's up to individual senators to express their concerns.

Q Do you know if Secretary Albright spoke with the Chairman about this over the weekend?

MR. MCCURRY: Her spokesman has indicated -- over the weekend? I don't know whether they spoke over the weekend, but she has spoken to the Chairman about it, as her spokesman has said.

Q What's the administration doing and what's your current thinking on the Boeing situation?

MR. MCCURRY: The current thinking is that we continue to hope the European Union and the Commission will act consistent with what we think are the standards that should apply to the review of a merger of this nature. The review ought to be based on competitive criteria and not on whether or not there would be a competitor advantage by the proposed merger. And we continue to take that position. The discussions between the Commission and our government and representatives of Boeing continue, and we hope that the Commission makes the correct decision.

Q Mike, back on this question about the tobacco tax cut -- setting aside the Earned Income Tax Credit and the stacking on that, if the Republicans say that the tobacco tax increase cost them $15 billion, is the White House amenable then to finding $15 billion elsewhere? Is that what you're saying?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that the additional coverage of children uninsured by the provision of that tax was over and above the $85 billion net tax relief. But I'll have to go back and look at that. In any event, I'm not going to try to write a bill now. That's what our negotiators have been talking about with their counterparts, and it's not useful for me to speculate about what might be in or out of legislation at the end of the day.

Q Mike, on the Boeing meeting, has the President made any calls on this -- called Tony Blair or anybody?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of, although senior levels of our government are following the matter very closely.

Q -- from the White House -- Berger or perhaps the Vice President or somebody?

MR. MCCURRY: I think Dan Tarullo from the National Economic Council has been following it most closely. And we'll check -- maybe Anne can check for you and see if others have been as well.

Q Mike, on Saturday, the President welcomed the new IRA cease-fire. But what would you say to the Unionist community who are skeptical of the permanence of that cease-fire and are now threatening to vote against this crucial compromise proposal on decommissioning?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, as the President said on Saturday, we hope and believe that this is a moment of opportunity. And we believe that will be so, especially if the parties head the call of the citizens of Northern Ireland. At the same time, the President has been quite clear in saying that the institution of the cease-fire should be permanent and unequivocal. And we certainly hope in this case it will be and that that will be demonstrated to be true over time. We laud those Unionists and Loyalists elements that have been -- have refrained from violence themselves over these many months, and we hope that restraint will continue to adhere.

Q Is the President likely to try and influence the Unionists to be more cooperative?

MR. MCCURRY: We do all that we can to try to be sympathetic and understanding to the leadership of both communities, understanding that there are deep divisions that persist as they have for centuries. But at the same time, the President is adamant in his belief that the people of Northern Ireland want peace and that this is a moment in which it might possibly be gained. And so our effort will be designed to encourage all parties to work closely with the government of the UK and the Republic of Ireland to further deepen and nurture the process that they have under way.

Q But it must be deeply frustrating at the moment when there is a new opportunity, but the peace talks themselves might break down before the end of the week.

MR. MCCURRY: We see this in Northern Ireland. We certainly see it in Bosnia. We see it, even as we speak, in the Middle East. Making peace is difficult and requires patience and requires a certain amount of discipline, but it also requires the capacity to keep the hope of peace alive. And we certainly will be encouraging the parties to approach these discussions in that spirit.

Q Mike, you talk about being sympathetic; is the White House sympathetic to the concerns the Unionists have to this cease-fire? Clinton was there just two years ago and he talked about the moment of opportunity. How is this different?

MR. MCCURRY: As a general proposition, we try to understand the concerns expressed by elements of both communities and try to see if we can't be helpful in attempting to bridge differences. And the best way for us to do that, we believe, is to be supportive of the process that the Prime Minister of Ireland and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom are pursuing.

Q Is there any outreach to Sinn Fein?

MR. MCCURRY: We have contacts regularly with the parties and we don't detail when and with whom we have those contacts.

Q Where is the President now on the Senate's proposal to means-test Medicare, and is he seriously considering Kerrey's proposal, compromise proposal on raising the eligibility age? Is that something that he's seriously looking at?

MR. MCCURRY: There is no change in the views we've previously expressed on that. We believe that the differences that exist between the House and the Senate bill, and the differences that exist between both bills' approach on that question and the process the administration prefers can be bridged as part of a comprehensive agreement.

Q But how about on raising the eligibility age? Is that something --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, our views on that are well known, and we're willing to work through our differences with the Congress as they wrestle with some type of legislation that would implement that portion of the bill.

Q On the Roth suggestions on Friday, did he move far enough toward the White House, at least in the area of IRAs, in terms of your -- out-year costs?

MR. MCCURRY: If you go down the column, the movement was in different directions depending on which provision you're talking about. In some cases, he moved closer to the House bill, which, as I said before, is further away from the White House. And on balance, we consider it a step in the wrong direction.

Q But on IRAs, the IRA provision itself?

MR. MCCURRY: We've still got work to do on that provision.

Q What's going on tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing yet. We'll have to tell you later in the day.

Let me do -- every once in a while, you get to kind of go back and revisit a subject that you talked about, and I wanted to do something. In July, right before the July Fourth weekend, I had a typically McCurry off-the-cuff reaction to a court ruling up in New York on the don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue policy.

And I've done a little more homework on that issue since, prodded, I think, by some concern -- legitimate concern expressed within and around the gay and lesbian community. And I should have pointed out in reacting to that court decision, among other things, that Secretary Cohen has expressed some concern about the implementation of the law, has empaneled a review group within the Department of Defense to look at the implementation of the act. They're working through issues like better training for members of the military as they implement the law, looking also at the allegations and the data with respect to those who suggest that the policy has not been carefully and effectively implemented.

And in retrospect, I would have pointed that out if I had looked into the issue more on July 3rd, and I thank the Human Rights Campaign, Service Members Legal Defense Network, and also Ken Bacon over at the Pentagon for educating me further and for prompting this clarification.

Q So what's the bottom line? Is it still under review as to how --

MR. MCCURRY: The bottom line is, the law is still the law. The opinion in that case is being appealed by the Justice Department, as the Justice Department has announced, but we must continue the work of effectively administering the law and making sure we do so with the kind of sensitivity that Secretary Cohen has said should apply.

Q I'm sorry, you say the law; you mean the policy. Right?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, well, the policy is now the law, but it's being challenged, obviously, in the courts.

Q Do you have any statistics available of how many people have had to leave?

MR. MCCURRY: There are -- you can contact the Pentagon on that. There is an independent group called Service Members Legal Defense Network that has done work on that, has issued a report in February, its third annual report, that looks at that data. That's a private nongovernmental group, but I believe that the Defense Department looks carefully at the data that they assemble. They have some disagreements with the methodology, but that is a useful report if you're looking for information.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.

             1:40 P.M. EDT