THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:11 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: It's Monday, August 4th at the White House. Today's daily briefing begins, and we begin with -- does the birthday honoree wish to pose today's first question, Helen Thomas? Happy birthday. We've been celebrating all day long. We've been celebrating your birthday and doing very little else.
Q What's the President doing for the rest of the day?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is getting ready to go speak to the National Urban League, looking forward to that; will be touting the merits of the balanced budget act he will sign into law tomorrow; talk about what a good budget this is for the nation's cities, how the administration -- some of the administration's key urban objectives have been included in the balanced budget deal. He'll talk about the importance of welfare reform in the life of our nation's cities.
Q Going to brag, huh?
MR. MCCURRY: He is going to bask in that moment.
Q Do you have some details on tomorrow's ceremony, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Mark, not much yet. They're still trying to assess who is going to be here. We think there will be at least several dozen members of Congress, both sides of the aisle. We're still not entirely sure about which members of the leadership will speak. Some are out of town and will not be there. But here at the White House we're planning on the South Lawn, but the weather is rather inclement, as you can tell.
Q So Republicans would be invited to have a speaking role?
MR. MCCURRY: I certainly expect at least one Republican will speak. We're trying to firm that up and we'll try to pin that down by the end of the day.
Q Is it your understanding that Clinton, no matter what he decides on the line item veto question, he would take the full five days, that he wouldn't announce it tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not speculating on line item veto. I'm not speculating on whether he'd take five days, one day, two hours, or whether he won't do any at all --
Q When does the five-day period trigger? Does tomorrow count as one of the days?
MR. MCCURRY: Upon signature. Yes, upon signature of the tax act, of the tax relief act. For both of them, yes. For both of them.
Q Five working days?
Q Until Monday.
MR. MCCURRY: Five working days, until Monday.
Q Are you encouraging Lugar to fight for Governor Weld?
MR. MCCURRY: We're encouraging all members of the Senate to think seriously about the President's nomination of Governor Bill Weld and appreciate those who have stepped forward like Senator Lugar to suggest that he does deserve a fair hearing.
Q Senator Helms said in one of the Raleigh newspapers over the weekend that he spoke about it with Erskine Bowles and didn't get the impression that the White House was necessarily going to go to the mat on this one.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they did speak, as I had already told you, and we have made it quite clear we will go to the mat.
Q Mike, there was a very eventful rally outside with this D.C. home rule situation a little while ago. I understand that some of the leaders of Free D.C. want a meeting with White House staff or the President before tomorrow, and there hoping that he will use the line item veto for this --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not -- I don't believe you can use a line item veto on that provision, and I don't believe, under the statute that he could exercise that authority on that provision. This measure does include very important aspects of the administration's proposals related to the District to help get the District back on its feet. And in exchange for doing that, which is going to be necessary -- if this is going to be a great Capital City, it's going to have to be fiscally sound, and that's what the administration has been seeking all along.
Now, in order to get that, as Delegate Norton has made clear, there were some trade-offs made up in Congress related to the authority of the Mayor, and we were not part of that discussion. But, at the same time, that's the price that was necessary in order to get the fiscal measures in place that are going to keep this District functioning and eventually will give this District the high-class, quality governance that it needs.
Q -- they would lose the democratic process with this control board.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are just different views of that. And in any event there would be no substantive administrative and fiscal assistance to the District, absent some of the changes that were included in the bill. And at the end of the day, I think members of Congress, including those who are the District's most ardent advocates in Congress, felt it was important to get those measures in place that would keep the District financially healthy.
Q Mike, why is it that the President is not doing anything to help end the UPS strike? It seems to be an economic disruption of some significance.
MR. MCCURRY: In one way, shape or form, strikes often are economically disruptive, but they are fully within the collective bargaining process that federal law protects. The test for the President's involvement is a much different one under the Taft-Hartley Act, and that's whether or not the nation's health and safety is imperiled by a nationwide strike. And while we continue to assess that question, while Mr. Lindsey, on behalf of the President, will no doubt agree to see the parties or have discussion with the parties -- in fact, I believe he may have spoken with the Teamsters Union already; I wouldn't be surprised if we don't have an UPS official in later on today and, of course, he's had ongoing contact with the federal mediator involved -- the test for the President's ability to react in a case of a strike like this is a much more stringent one.
Q Let me follow up if I may. I mean he didn't show any compunction about trying to act in the baseball strike or acting in the American Airlines strike, and you're not talking health and safety there.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the nation's health is substantially affected when the national pastime is set aside. The mental health of millions of Americans were affected -- (laughter) -- no, the question is an economic one in this case. What disruption is there to the economic livelihood of the nation, what impact is there on the national economy as a result of the strike. And, of course, that depends in part on how long it goes. But for the moment, the President fully supports the statement issued by the Secretary of Labor that both parties should agree to get back to the bargaining table and try to resolve their differences.
Q Mike, just to follow up on that, you're saying that the nation's -- the economic effects of the baseball strike were greater than UPS?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the nation's health and how you define it can be a matter of judgment.
Q Mike, but that's the whole -- the whole question revolves around the issue of why does one strike merit the President's attention, like baseball, like airlines, and not this one?
MR. MCCURRY: Because no two strikes are the same.
Q What's different about this one?
MR. MCCURRY: This one involves the delivery of parcel services by UPS and not the national pastime.
Q Who was the official coming to see?
Q So are you trying to say also -- you said that striking sometimes is good for collective bargaining. Could you be -- could the White House be on the side of --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't say it sometimes could be good; I said it is an established and protected process under the National Labor Relations Act, under the Wagner Act, and the right to strike is one aspect of collective bargaining that's been protected.
Q You said a UPS official may come in today. Who will he or she see?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, to see Mr. Lindsey.
Q What time?
Q And the Teamsters? UPS --
MR. MCCURRY: Later this afternoon. He's already spoken by phone with a representative of the Teamsters Union.
Q What's the purpose of Lindsey's communications?
MR. MCCURRY: Informational, to understand the disposition of the parties and their willingness to work with a federal mediator to resume negotiations on their outstanding dispute.
Q Can you tell us who he spoke with with the Teamsters? Who did he speak with?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know.
Q Can't Lindsey get that information from the federal mediator?
MR. MCCURRY: He has gotten some, but I think he thought it was useful, and the parties I think in the cast of UPS, I believe, they requested an opportunity to see Mr. Lindsey, and Mr. Lindsey, even though the President's made it clear what his immediate intentions are, Mr. Lindsey didn't think it was unwarranted to have a meeting with their representative.
Q And is Lindsey conveying any message from the President to the parties?
MR. MCCURRY: The one that was delivered by the Secretary of Labor and reinforced by the President, which is go back to the table and try to resolve the strike.
Q Can we just go back to Weld for a second? I think that Helms also said this weekend that Albright has talked to him on many occasions and never brought Weld up. And I think that directly contradicts what you've said in the past.
MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to -- that's contrary to my understanding, contrary to what I believe her spokesman has said, but you'll have to ask the State Department.
Q Mike, can I go back to the President's authority? Back to the order that was issued in the American Airlines strike, is it your conclusion that he had the authority on that one?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a different -- the Railway Labor Act governs the common carriers in that case. And the statutory authority I believe that governs in this case is the Taft-Hartley Act and, of course, the National Labor Relations Act.
Q On the line item veto, getting back to that for a second, some members of Congress say that since this was a bipartisan tax bill and a bipartisan spending bill, it would be a sign of bad faith, ill will on the part of the President, if he were to use the line item veto in connection with these two particular pieces of legislation.
MR. MCCURRY: The passage of the line item veto act was itself the result of bipartisan support. The President -- President Clinton strongly supported its enactment and it was passed by a Republican Congress. And it specifies those instances in which the consideration of the line item veto can apply, and they are quite specific. And the Joint Tax Committee itself from the Republican Congress is the one that identified, at least within the tax bill, those items that are of a limited benefit to taxpayers and thus subject to the test of the line item veto. It is a bipartisan process by definition.
Q But didn't your negotiators negotiate these bills? I mean, didn't they know what was in them?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that the negotiators negotiated each and every one of these 79, 80 provisions, no.
Q Is the administration determined that China will not be ready for WTO membership by the October visit by Jiang Zemin?
MR. MCCURRY: No, to the contrary; we are determined to continue our good-faith negotiations with the Chinese to achieve commercially viable terms that would allow China to comply with international norms accepted by all WTO members and provide improved market access by U.S. companies to Chinese markets. We, of course, will continue our dialogue with the government. I believe that the assessment of the status of those negotiations are quite clear from some of the things Ambassador Barshefsky has said, but, at the same time, by no means do we rule out continuing our dialogue.
Q Do you expect that China will make enough moves by October? It's only a couple of months away.
MR. MCCURRY: We believe they are scheduled to make another proposal or another presentation in September.
Q Mike, voices have been raised in Latin America and in this country, Capitol Hill, about the raising of the arms embargo, the lifting of the arms embargo to Latin America. Are you people convinced that you have the proper mechanisms to stop an arms raise?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe a case-by-case consideration of individual transactions is a way that we can do two things: one, recognize the enormous positive change that's occurred in Latin America as those countries move toward democracy; and two, acknowledge the fact that many of their militaries are now in need of modernizing their military hardware. And the United States has properly adopted a policy in the past of restraint. I think in general concept, restraint will continue to apply. But we will now have some flexibility on a case-by-case basis to consider individual transactions. The President thought that was a warranted adjustment in or policy.
Q But you have, for example, Ecuador and Peru, if you're mediating --
MR. MCCURRY: There are places where we are, as we are in Ecuador and Peru, guarantors of the peace treaty that exists between those two countries, and there are places where tension have been higher and in which our view of restraint would be much stronger. But we will consider, case by case. Chile is obviously most immediately a country that indicates some desire to proceed with certain advanced arms transfer transactions, and this policy will allow us to consider those types of transactions case by case.
Q In the President's speech this afternoon, what else beside welfare reform specifically is he going to mention that will benefit the cities?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's coming right on up, so you can catch it all, but he will talk about children's health care, particularly the coverage of 5 million children, many of whom are urban dwellers, of course.
The tax credit provisions that will encourage new investment in cities, particularly the Brown Fields Initiative, the Empowerment Zone funding that is included in the balanced budget bill. This budget has guaranteed the funding for some of our community police officers under the 100,000 cops program, and that, because it's been subject to attack in the past by Congress, its inclusion is very important.
Some of the welfare reform provisions, I think, are critical and, of course, the provisions that affect legal immigrants, many of whom live in cities that have been particularly a source of concern to mayors and others who are advocates of the urban community. I think the President will walk through a number of those provisions in saying that this is the best budget deal for the cities in almost a generation.
Q Will he say anything about the race initiative at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect he will talk a little bit about the race initiative and give the Urban League an update on how things are going there and the work that John Hope Franklin and the executive director, Judy Webster, are going to staff up and get going.
Q Just to go back to the UPS strike for a second --is the White House position essentially we don't have the authority to act, or we don't choose to act?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has the authority in some situations under the Taft-Hartley Act to intervene in a strike. Now, this is rarely used. I think President Truman was the last to invoke that provision during the steel strike in 1952, so it is a rarely used device available to the President, and the President clearly chooses not to do so at this time, but we also are going to monitor the strike to see what impact it has on the people of the United States and whether it does begin to affect the health, safety and welfare of the American people.
Q But short of formally invoking the Taft-Hartley labor law, why doesn't he want to use his bully pulpit to try to get both sides back to the bargaining table?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe he did that just today. He endorsed the call by the Secretary of Labor to urge the parties to resume negotiating. That's about what presidents have done in similar situations in the past, to use the bully pulpit and the powers of jawboning to encourage sides to negotiate. And, of course, we will have contact with the -- have had and will have contact with the parties today, but not supplant the role of the federal mediator, who we urged be put in place to help the parties reconcile their differences.
Q But has or has not the White House come to a determination that the nation's health and safety is imperiled by the strike?
MR. MCCURRY: The President made it clear and others have made it clear we are not invoking the Taft-Hartley Act today.
Q But you haven't made that determination, right, which would be required under the Taft-Hartley Act?
MR. MCCURRY: I think you have to make a determination if you invoke the act. I'd have to look at the labor law particularly, but I think you have to affirmatively make it.
Q Can you give us a readout on this morning's meeting on climate change?
MR. MCCURRY: It was a very good, serious meeting. The participants talked a lot about how you arrive at the right negotiating posture for the Kyoto Conference on global climate change. Obviously, many of these private sector leaders appreciated what the President had to say about market-based approaches that would allow for the kind of flexible administration the President seeks. They talked a lot about emissions trading and how that would work, which is one market-based approach. They talked about joint implementation, which would couple the ability of the developing world to work with under-developed and lesser-developed countries in setting realistic targets.
There was some discussion and some skepticism expressed about the science that has been brought to view -- not so much about the conclusion of science that there has been a measurable impact on climate effect by the emission of greenhouse gases, but more the nature or size or quantity of that and what it suggests by way of a policy response. Some discussion of that; some agreement that there should be further science done. The administration does not object to that, even though the President, as he just told you, considers the science compelling.
But in all a good meeting and the President expressed some desire to remain in contact with this group, to have additional consultations with other leaders in the business community and of course, we will be reaching out to environmentalists, labor representatives, others as we continue to fashion our approach to the negotiating sessions that will lead up to the Kyoto Conference.
Q Was this a self-organized group of opponents, or was it a group assembled by the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a group that the White House assembled, anxious to talk to interested corporate CEOs, and of course it included the chair of the Business Roundtable's environmental task force and some people identified as being interested in and familiar with the issue.
Q Did the President and the leaders express their views on the role of developing countries?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. There is some agreement that, as we have said, the developing country must be included in any regime that results from the Kyoto Conference, and this concept of joint implementation which is responsibilities placed upon both developing countries and the developed world is one that had some widespread support in the meeting.
Q Mike, do you have any details on the hiring of the first welfare recipient by the White House and if there is any others in the pipeline?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any here right now, but I think The L.A. Times did an article on it over the weekend and we do have some information I think Barry can help you out with.
Q Do you know if there are others in the pipeline?
MR. MCCURRY: We have six on board, we have six on board now who are working here and they're doing well, and I think there are plans to see if we can expand the number of hires.
Q You said there was some agreement there should be further science done. Is that just a general view, or is there some agreement that they should do something?
MR. MCCURRY: There is a general view -- I don't know that it was -- I'd have to check; I didn't hear that it was pinpointed at any specific scientific question.
Q Was there any conclusion at all from this meeting, any follow-on to be done?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the follow-up is the President continue to keep open a productive dialogue with the private sector as we fashion our negotiating posture. I think some recognition that there are additional views within the business community that maybe are not as open to argument as some of those represented at this meeting, and that those views have to be considered as well, but the President was very satisfied with the very productive meeting.
Q I talked to a lot of accountants about the new tax bill, and they were gleeful because they said --
MR. MCCURRY: They get a lot of work. Of course, they were very gleeful.
Q -- to fill out our tax forms anymore. I'm also hearing that the White House is thinking about an initiative to simplify the income tax system, and I'm wondering --
MR. MCCURRY: We're always looking at ways to simplify the income tax system. I think the figure is roughly two-thirds, if not more than two-thirds, of all tax filers now use the short form, the 1040 EZ, and in the implementation of this legislation, the Treasury will seek to make it as easy as possible for the American people, but they continue to look at ways that we can simplify and streamline the processing of tax forms. The IRS will tell you a lot about things that they've done for electronic filing and other things to try to improve the accuracy and the speed with which the federal government processes tax returns.
Q I'm told there will be a new initiative --
MR. MCCURRY: There are some new ideas that are being considered. You should go check in at Treasury.
Q Would you care to comment on the Newsweek Paula Jones story that came out this weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Back on Weld, is Lugar trying to get these 10 votes in concert with the White House? I mean, you're working together, discussing together, and how optimistic are you that he can do it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he made his comments in an interview program Sunday. I don't know that they were coordinated with the administration. We welcome them, obviously, and we will, as we make the rounds on behalf of Governor Weld, try to work with individual members to see if we can't encourage the Senate to have the hearing that Governor Weld deserves.
Q Getting back to the welfare hires here at the White House, the first woman that you hired that was a welfare recipient had worked for the federal government before. Do you know if any of the six that are in place now had to get training? Because the first one didn't, I know that.
MR. MCCURRY: Barry can help you out on that. I'm not familiar with each of their individual situations.
Q Mike, on Weld again, is your goal to get Weld a hearing, or would you be just as happy if somebody would call a discharge petition and get him to the floor and skip over --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'd like to -- we'd love to get him confirmed, but I think --
Q So either way -- you don't care which way?
MR. MCCURRY: -- whatever issues there are, whatever concerns senators have should be addressed in an open and fair hearing. That's usually the case with nominees, but we'd open to seeing him confirmed by whatever route. But we, at the same time, do not suggest that we support or would encourage anything that circumvents the authority of Chairman Helms. Chairmen of Senate committees, and especially the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have prerogatives, just as the President does.
Q But how do you get a hearing if Helms doesn't want a hearing? I mean, that's circumventing his authority --
MR. MCCURRY: We are encouraged to see so many now saying, particularly within Chairman Helms' party in the Senate, that maybe he should get a hearing. And, hopefully, that public call for hearings will grow sufficient to the point that the Chairman feels it might be a wise idea to have one.
Q Wait a second. Lugar was talking about doing something that allows a certain number of committee members to call a hearing without Helms' -- overruling Helms' objection.
MR. MCCURRY: There are procedures in the Senate, but we would prefer to see if it wouldn't be possible to have Chairman Helms call a hearing.
Q So you don't support what Lugar's doing in circumventing Helms?
MR. MCCURRY: We support -- I don't believe Senator Lugar said that's what he was doing. He said perhaps that would be one alternative route, but I think first and foremost, he was trying to encourage Chairman Helms to relent and to call a hearing, which I think makes sense.
Q Mike, are you open to seeing him confirmed by whatever means, which is just what you said, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: We want to see him confirmed, David, and the Senate has to decide what procedures they use and we generally don't tell the Senate what procedures to use as they fulfill their constitutional duties.
Q So it's okay if they go around Senator Helms?
MR. MCCURRY: It's up to them.
Q When you say that the President will go to the mat for Weld, does that coincide with Weld's claim that he might have to wage a ground war and perhaps even an air war?
MR. MCCURRY: We wage wars out of the Pentagon, not out of the State Department.
Q To what extent does the President see tomorrow's bill signing and the agreement that led to it as a legacy-building event in his --
MR. MCCURRY: It's an important element of a strategy that will have some long-term historic consequence. That's the strategy of investing in our future, bringing deficits down, and building the kind of community in America in which people can live out their potential. And the President talks about that all the time.
That's really a strategy that began with the 1993 deficit reduction plan. And his continuing emphasis on reducing budget deficits and balancing the budget, investing in the American people, and opening up international markets for commerce is a three-part economic strategy that has held up pretty well, and we believe will add to a record -- an economic record that will more than satisfy the President and hopefully historians of the future.
But, look, this is the hard work of building a growing, prosperous America for the 21st century, what the President pledged to when he ran for election both in 1992 and 1996. And in history, I hope, and I think the President hopes, that he will be seen as someone who fulfilled the promise he made to the American people both times he was elected President.
Q What about the risks, Mike, of some of these tax loopholes exploding the budget just as baby boomers retirement time comes?
MR. MCCURRY: This budget, consistent with the President's firm stand, will not explode budget deficits in the out-years. One of the things the President fought for in the negotiations and succeeded in achieving was limits on the out-year costs and the beyond-year costs of some of the tax provisions that have been suggested by the congressional majority. That didn't happen in part because the President stood firm on some of those provisions. It's one of the reasons why he's fairly confident that this budget will hold up well as an element of our economic strategy going well into the next century.
Q Any plans for a presidential news conference in the days or weeks ahead?
MR. MCCURRY: Can I announce we're having one Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., or is that not ready yet? (Laughter.)
Q This Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: That's what we were thinking of. Why don't you wait and let me see if we can -- help me, somebody. Someone down the line tell me if I just stepped in it again. (Laughter.) We'll find out.
Q So there either will be one or there won't be one.
Q Once the President has his balanced budget law in place tomorrow, is there any strategy or desire on the President's part to start paying off the national debt?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a good question. I think that the down payments on the debt between now and the year 2002, in the period covered, are those that were actually reducing the deficit until you get to balance. The question of whether you would apply future surpluses for reducing the overall debt burden is something I'll have to discuss with the Secretary of the Treasury.
We're going to do it Wednesday.
MR. TOIV: -- what you said is something I can say. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I always am glad when we do that. I think we're planning on one Wednesday, but we are playing a little bit with the schedule. We'll announce it officially later on.
Q Has there been any determination yet on whether the tobacco provision is subject to the line item veto?
MR. MCCURRY: It is not going to -- that eminent constitutional scholar, Dr. Barry Toiv -- did you just check the list?
MR. TOIV: I asked the Treasury Department, to be sure.
MR. MCCURRY: Excellent.
Q So Mr. Gephardt was --
MR. MCCURRY: He relied on controlling legal authority before he -- (laughter).
Q What is the status of Mr. Kennard at the FCC?
MR. MCCURRY: He's a member of the Federal Communications Commission.
Q Is he going to get a new job?
MR. MCCURRY: A very highly regarded member of the Federal Communications Commission.
Q Is there no decision on his future?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't announce anything on that, did I? (Laughter.) We'll let Barry announce that before it's supposed to be announced.
MR. TOIV: Wednesday, 2:00 p.m. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Anything else today? Okay. See you Tuesday.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:40 P.M. EDT