THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:36 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
THE PRESS: Good afternoon, Mr. McCurry.
MR. MCCURRY: Very good, you're getting much better at that. Thank you, class.
The President of the United States met earlier today with the Secretary of Defense, as you know. And one outcome of that meeting is an announcement that it gives me great pleasure to make. On behalf of the President, I am pleased to announce that he is pleased to nominate General Michael E. Ryan to be Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. General Ryan currently serves as Commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Commander Allied Air Forces Central Europe.
In a statement, the President says he brings to the job of Chief of Staff broad operational and joint experience, as well as proven leadership ability and a deep concern for the men and women of the United States Air Force. And during his distinguished career, General Ryan served a combat tour in the Vietnam War and commanded a fighter squadron and fighter wing. As Commander Air Forces Southern Europe, he directed the highly successful air strikes in Bosnia that convinced the warring factions that they could not achieve their aims through military means, which contributed ultimately to our efforts to convene the negotiations that resulted in the Dayton Accords.
General Ryan, the President says, assumes the post of Chief of Staff as the United States Air Force proudly celebrates 50 years of dedicated to our nation in war and peace. And with General Ryan as Chief of Staff, the President says he is confident that the Air Force will continue its tradition of excellence as it enters the 21st century.
On a personal note, I'd like to say that I travelled a good deal of this world with General Ryan when he served as Special Assistant to Chairman Shalikashvili, and he is one extraordinarily fine fellow. And even better than that, due to Colonel Crowley's quick research, we can also report he is the -- as near as we can tell, the first son to follow in a father's footsteps as the Chief of Staff of one of the services. Mike's father, John D. Ryan, served as Chief of Staff for the Air Force from 1969 to 1973. And I know Mike Ryan would be especially pleased that he becomes the first to follow in the footsteps of his dad.
Q Did the President express any regret in the manner in which his predecessor left the job?
MR. MCCURRY: The President discussed that matter with the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of Defense will have more to say on that at the Pentagon at 2:00 p.m.
Q What about the situation with General Schwalier.
MR. MCCURRY: That's what we were just referring to.
Q No, no, that was Fogleman.
MR. MCCURRY: The Schwalier matter will be reviewed by the Secretary of Defense at 2:00 p.m.
Q What about Fogleman leaving because he doesn't think that Schwalier should take the hit?
MR. MCCURRY: The President paid tribute to his service and the General spoke for himself on his reasons for taking retirement.
Q -- supports Secretary Cohen's decision to deny the second star to General Schwalier?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary will report on his discussion with the President at 2:00 p.m. at the Pentagon. I should say, obviously, it's safe to assume that the President is very supportive of the efforts the Secretary has made to address this matter.
Q Is the White House ready to throw in the towel now that Senator Lott has effectively declared the Weld nomination dead?
MR. MCCURRY: The heat is just beginning to be turned up, and we've got a long ways to go in that nomination fight, and Senator Lott's statement today is not going to be the last word on it. The President wants Governor Weld to get a fair hearing. We don't see how the Majority Leader or Chairman Helms can deny a fair hearing to someone who is so superbly qualified to be a United States ambassador, and that's all that Governor Weld asks at this point. The President assured Governor Weld in their meeting today that not only would he press hard to try to get a fair hearing for the government, but we would work hard ultimately to see that he is confirmed.
Q How is he pressing hard? Has he talked to Lott, or is he going to talk to Lott?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been talking with folks here about how we can best move forward on the nomination. Clearly, a lot of our effort is going to have to be aimed at the fall since the Senate is not likely to take any action on this prior to the August recess. He discussed with Governor Weld and some of his senior advisors today things that we could do to enhance the prospects that we could get a fair hearing in the fall, and I think the President is prepared to do some things that would be helpful and working to assure that we're coordinated in doing other things, too, to try to generate support for the nomination.
Q If the Majority Leader is not prepared to, as we put it, roll Senator Helms, how do you get this to a vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, things have a way of changing in Washington. Did you ever notice that?
Q Do you really believe that --
MR. MCCURRY: Things kind of go along, every once in a while and then you just -- the things sort of change and situations change. So we'll see what happens in the fall.
Q What's going to change here?
MR. MCCURRY: What's going to change here? We're going to continue to press hard to get someone a hearing that he deserves. And we see increasingly -- you've seen even yesterday -- members of the Republican Caucus encouraging their leadership to at least give Governor Weld a hearing. And if enough people join in that call, I think that there will be some pressure on the leadership to see if they can't accommodate the desires of a majority of Senators who want to see the nomination heard.
Q Will the President make a direct appeal to Senator Helms?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't rule that out. We have talked -- we certainly at a very high level have talked, and the President has instructed his Chief of Staff to discuss the matter with the Chairman and they did. And I don't rule out that they'll talk at some future date.
Q How long did the meeting last, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: They were there about 20 minutes or so. It was just a brief meeting before Governor Weld set off to Capitol Hill for some of the courtesy calls he's having.
Q When did Erskine Bowles talk to Senator Helms?
MR. MCCURRY: Some time ago.
Q Is there a possibility the Democrats could try to hold their own hearings in a room or something like that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate. That's a procedural matter for the Senate, and they're best familiar with their procedural rules up there.
Q Is the President prepared to use some of his personal chits to really push for Weld's confirmation?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q What chits does he have with Helms? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Say that again.
Q What chits does he have with Helms that he can play?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, we'll think of a few.
Q Mike, assuming the Senate completes action on a tax cut tomorrow, when would you foresee a signing ceremony?
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't scheduled one yet, but obviously sometime next week, we would hope.
Q Did the White House support a provision that's apparently a tax bill that would allow the 15 cent increase in tobacco tax to be -- the money generated from that to be applied against any potential future settlement for the tobacco companies? That's apparently in there and Kennedy is upset about it. Lott says that you --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll look into that. I'm not familiar with that.
Q Mike, what are the President's thoughts about what happened today in New York with the possible terrorist attack there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President compliments the fine law enforcement work that's been done by federal, state and local law enforcement officials. There is an interagency task force that applied some good law enforcement work in this situation. There is an ongoing investigation of this at this point. I would think it would be best to refer you to both the FBI and to the New York Police Department for further comment. But one thing the President has been assured of is that there does not appear to be any direct threat to the people of New York City or the people of the United States. And the President is glad for that, obviously.
Q Is the White House fearful of a connection possibly from what happened --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on matters that are still under investigation.
Q Granted that you're saying that you don't know about that in the tax bill, but is that the sort of thing that sounds like the White House would be happy to see?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know enough about that provision to make a comment off the cuff on it. I'll have to check into it.
Q What time is Albright expected over here?
MR. MCCURRY: They're going to try to come, I think, around 4:00 p.m., in that neighborhood. She's getting -- she's arriving back, I think, some time just after 3:00 p.m. at Andrews, and then they're going to come here first, I think. And the team will meet with Sandy Berger at that point and some of our NSC folks.
Q Mike, is there any White House role in trying to prevent a UPS strike tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: Bruce Lindsey, I think, at the request of both parties, has met with them. It's been mostly an informational session, as they gather. The White House will be abreast of the collective bargaining discussions that they're having. I'm not aware that we've taken any formal role at this point.
Q Is there any consideration of a presidential intervention?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that. We've at this point just had contact with the parties to understand better their deliberations.
Q Mike, will you address the allegations that deal with Kathleen Willey and whether or not she was harassed by the President?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Was she? Can you deny it, or --
MR. MCCURRY: I think Mr. Bennett has spoken on that matter. I have nothing to add, and I think it's up to responsible news organizations to make editorial judgments about whether that's a matter they ought to pursue.
Q Mr. Bennett is not being responsive. He has a very brief statement and he's not talking.
MR. MCCURRY: That statement should speak for itself, then.
Q That statement identifies her as an employee of the White House. Is she a paid employee?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not answering questions on this matter. I think that editorial judgments need to be made about whether this is something news organizations want to pursue and if so they should contact Mr. Bennett.
Q It's a valid question, though, to ask whether she was a paid White House employee.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I'll see if there's a way to answer that question. I'm not going to assist news organizations in pursuing that story.
Q So you can't answer if it's true or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm referring you to Mr. Bennett.
Q Well, Mr. Bennett just talked about the relevancy of the subpoena to the Jones case. He didn't address the allegation.
MR. MCCURRY: His statement speaks for itself.
Q Well, he doesn't tell us very much in his statement. I mean, where --
MR. MCCURRY: That may be about all it's worth.
Q Well, did Kathleen Willey work in the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I can check. I mean, it's been reported that she has. I don't know the individual, I don't know whether she did or not.
Q Do you know if the President did appoint her to this USO board?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not commenting on that matter.
Q Your office issued a statement last -- I believe it was December or last fall saying --
Q -- exercise news judgment if we can't get the facts?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q You're telling us to exercise news judgment, but how can we exercise news judgment if we can't get the facts?
MR. MCCURRY: The facts -- Mr. Bennett has made a statement that speaks to the allegations and that speaks for itself.
Q Your office issued a press release about her late last year saying that the President was appointing her to the USO Board and identified her as -- your press release identified her as serving in the White House. Would you at least take the question of whether she was ever a White House --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any reason to doubt that, but I'm not sure how that connects to any other matter that might be being pursued by other parties.
Q -- whether she was an employee or whether she was a volunteer?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. That's where -- we can find out that referencing the statement that was issued at that time. But I'm not going to comment on that in relation to any other matters that may be pursued by outside parties. I want to make that very clear.
Q But can you explain to us why you think responsible news organizations should not be pursuing this story?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that. I said it's up to you to make those editorial judgments. I didn't suggest that anyone should not pursue it. I said it's up to responsible news organizations to make editorial judgments, and you're not going to use me at this podium to further stories that your news organizations have to decide on their own whether or not they want to pursue.
Q A number of news organizations did choose not to use it until --
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q -- the President's lawyer issued a statement, which raised a question about her working at the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: This story has -- we've been asked about this for quite some time -- quite some time we've been asked about this and a number of news organizations have elected not to further report on this matter. So I'm not going to do anything here that helps feed the story.
Q What's the purpose of the Middle East meeting today?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there is a desire by the President to get some assessments of what his senior Middle East policy team thinks about the status of the process, how we can address the tragic events that have occurred after a proper period of mourning, what we can do to try to encourage the parties to remain in contact, how we can advance some of the ideas that we were prepared to put forward in deliberations that Ambassador Ross was going to have with the parties during his scheduled trip. And the President, as he told you yesterday, is determined to continue his personal and direct involvement in the process and in encouraging the parties to search for peace.
Q Is this a new approach to the Middle East as opposed to a new policy, or what's --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that Ambassador Ross and others have indicated that he was prepared to share some ideas with the parties during his scheduled trip there, and while we've declined to specify what those are, I think the President still has a desire to see if we can't press forward in a process that is ultimately the antidote to the type of violence that we've seen too often in the region.
Q Is it still unlikely that the President will --
Q So the President --
MR. MCCURRY: He'll get recommendations from Mr. Berger; if any arise, you'll certainly get at least a report on their discussions.
Q Is he in the meeting?
Q Is it still unlikely that he'll be --
MR. MCCURRY: He may drop by, but he's not scheduled to currently.
Q It's unlikely that he'll be involved, or he will drop by?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not scheduled to, although I think Mr. Berger may brief him right afterwards. I wouldn't rule out that he might want to stop by.
Q Mike, you announced yesterday that you were cancelling Mr. Ross's trip to the Middle East, or postponing it. Doesn't that appear to give the terrorists sort of veto power over --
MR. MCCURRY: No, that was an expression of respect for the memories of the victims and an expression of condolences to their families. It was proper to observe the mourning period in the Jewish faith, and we will be back at it after a respectful period and after we assess how best to advance our diplomacy.
Q -- you're fearful for his safety?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q Fearful for Ross's safety?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely not.
Q Some law enforcement officials think there may be a link between a Brooklyn incident and what happened --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate.
Q Could that be addressed at the meeting this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Highly unlikely that that would be a subject. That's a law enforcement matter.
Q Mike, since the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations -- before this latest terrorist incident and you had barely a sign of slow resumption and so on, if you look back on the last year since Oslo, isn't it quite apparent now that the Oslo timetable makes this an increasingly fragile operation in the sense that the longer you wait for starting and concluding final status talks, the more opportunity you give to the enemies of peace to derail the thing one way or another? And is this administration looking at the possibility of accelerating final status talks to overcome that problem?
MR. MCCURRY: We can't adjust the timetable of the -- that the parties have determined for themselves. It has always been our belief, at the same time, that there is momentum associated with agreements, and momentum associated with good-faith discussion between the parties. And it is important to try to keep that momentum. And clearly we, in this process over the years, have had setbacks; we've had triumphs and we pressed forward through the setbacks and continue to look for ways to make progress in the process. But ultimately we cannot do for the parties what they must do for themselves, which is reconcile their differences, adhere to their agreements, respect and honor the timetables they've set up for themselves, and address those issues that they have identified within final status. We have tried to help them find ways to do that. And we have -- will vigorously continue to find ways to help them do that.
Q But would you welcome, if they both agree, an acceleration of the timetable for final status?
MR. MCCURRY: We would welcome a dialogue between the parties that would try to resolve their differences. And if that is one aspect of their resolution, that would be something we would encourage. But we would -- I mean, something we would support -- we would support those agreements the parties reach, and indeed find ways to help them facilitate a dialogue so they can reach those agreements.
Q Mike, on the Weld nomination, do you think there are parliamentary maneuvers that can still be done to get around Helms and Lott?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on Senate procedures. There are senators who have suggested there may be some ways to address this. They know best within the Senate how they could try to press forward. We want a fair hearing for Governor Weld. That doesn't seem like too much to ask. And the President is confident that if we press the case and press the merits of the nomination, enough senators will step forward saying he is entitled to a fair hearing and he may indeed get it.
Q Can you give a readout on the Gingrich breakfast this morning? Anything, any color, what they ate, where they were?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any color and I think the President has elected just to keep it a private conversation. It was a good conversation, but the President elects to keep it private.
Q Mike, does the President still plan to go to a fundraiser for Dick Gephardt next month in St. Louis?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think so, but I don't think we -- we haven't formally announced it, but I know that they were talking about it. He would certainly want to be supportive of both the Minority Leader and members of the Democratic Congressional Committee staff who have been putting together events. I'm not sure if they've scheduled a specific event out there for Gephardt; it may have been a DCCC event.
Q So Gephardt's -- how has Gephardt's stand on this whole budget, his opposition to this budget agreement, affected relations with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: It hasn't had an effect, at all. He has disagreed with the President on some matters in the past, he's been very supportive of the President on other aspects of the President's program. He's got honorable disagreements with some aspects of the balanced budget agreement and the President respects that.
The President, at the same time, is delighted that well over a majority of the House Democratic Caucus appears to be supportive now of not only the balanced budget, but the tax bill. I think that reflects -- the President believes that reflects the sentiment broadly in the party and certainly within the democratic caucus. But, at the same time, he respects the Minority Leader's right to have minority views.
Q That would be a fundraiser for '98, not 2000, right?
MR. MCCURRY: '98, 2000, whatever. (Laughter.) Probably the House races in 2000 as well.
Q The situation in Nigeria, there are still people calling for sanctions against Nigeria -- U.S. sanctions -- and Jesse Jackson has been here talking to the White House about that. What's going on? What's the President's feeling at this point about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to support some of our diplomatic work I think through the -- we've got an envoy that has been doing some discussions specifically about how to get a peace process -- how they get adherence back to the democratic peace processes in Nigeria. If you check with NSC staff, I think they can tell you more about some of what we've done recently.
Very good. Thank you. See you tomorrow.
Q What are the plans here tomorrow, Mike? We have the foreign leader coming, right?
MR. MCCURRY: President Aliyev will be here, of Azerbaijan.
Q Anything else?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing else that I'm aware of at this point. But if we -- we'll try to let you know later on in the day.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:56 P.M. EDT