THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:23 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Well, ladies and gentlemen, we've witnessed today of history here at the White House. And so much has been said; what more could I possibly say?
Q Do you know anything about a Korean 747 that's down, supposedly, off of Guam?
MR. MCCURRY: Only that we are aware of the reports, Wolf. We're starting to get sketchy information coming to us from Guam. We have heard reports of bad weather in the area. Beyond that, we just have sketchy information at this point. That clearly will be a developing story.
Q When you say sketchy information from Guam -- there are air force bases there?
MR. MCCURRY: We've been in contact, I think some of our military folks who are assembling information, getting it here. It's just too early for us to give you a definitive account of what happened?
Q But do you know for sure that a 747 --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not confirming that. I'm just saying we are aware of the reports. We're getting sketchy information, Wolf.
Q Sketchy information from U.S. government sources?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q Different topic. The Medicare commission in the bill that was signed today reports back in 1999. Why -- is that a good year for them to be reporting back? I mean, it's running right into the presidential race. Why that time period?
MR. MCCURRY: I thought the idea was that it went beyond the congressional race. No, I mean, the President's view has been that entitlement reform is much more likely now that members of Congress have been able to vote for or against the balanced budget. We now have a balanced budget in place that reaches balance by a date certain. Far more likely now, in the President's view, that members of Congress could take the next step and address the long-term issues of entitlement reform because no one will be subject to the charge that they have done so -- they balanced the budget on the backs of the elderly, because we've in a sense separated the question of how you reach balance from the issues that are important in addressing the long-term needs of the nation's social insurance program.
Q Mike, can you tell us what's happening this afternoon at 5:45 p.m. with the economic leaders meeting with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will have a meeting, one of a series of meetings with leaders of various communities here in America. In this case, today, he'll be meeting with leaders of the African American community. The Leadership Forum is I think kind of an umbrella grouping of some of the major African American organizations in America. The President looks forward to a good, vigorous discussion of a lot of issues, ranging from, of course, the Balanced Budget Act that's just passed, to the agenda of the Congressional Black Caucus that he's familiar with, of course, and has been addressing. The President will also want to update them as well on the race initiative that he has launched.
Q The crack cocaine issue, is that coming up?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure that will arise and the President's prepared to review the issue with them.
Q Following up on that last night interview with Tavis Smiley on BET, the President said that he's going to leave it up to the Race Advisory Board to determine whether he apologizes for slavery and if there should be reparations. Why is he leaving it up to them when he was thinking about it at one time himself?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has really, in a way, put that issue aside and said that's not going to be the focus of his race initiative, nor is it the place he believes we should really start the kind of discussion he is looking for when -- bringing Americans together. That's an issue of -- whatever the merits of those discussions, the Advisory Board will have a chance to examine those issues.
Q Mike, would the White House be amenable to a recommendation to break up the INS?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House is aware that a bipartisan commission on immigration reform has made some recommendations; with respect to that, we've taken no position on that report at this time. It is under review.
Q Does the White House think the INS is currently doing a good job in its current incarnation?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that Commission Meissner has been emphatic in bringing important reforms to the INS and they look each and every day for ways to make that agency perform better. It is clearly an agency that deals with some of the most complex problems we face in our society and at times its performance falls short. But they've got very good people working to make the performance of the agency as effective as possible. And what's identified in this report are, of course, not shortcomings in the personnel and people, but structural impediments to them efficiently doing their job because of overlapping jurisdictions of other departments.
Q Well, one follow-up on that. Would the White House give such a recommendation serious consideration?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe I indicated that, that we certainly will seriously consider the report, but we've taken no position on it at this point.
Q To return to the earlier subject, when and how did the President decide that he wasn't going to address this slavery apology issue? That does seem to contradict what he had said at the time of San Diego when he said he wanted to entertain it.
MR. MCCURRY: No, he said that shortly after San Diego, that that came up and he indicated that that's the procedure we'd use.
Q And has he given a specific charge to the commission, please give me a recommendation by X date?
MR. MCCURRY: I think in some of the discussions they said that's an issue, if it falls within your purview and you want to pursue it, that that would be the proper place to do it. But, again, the President doesn't see that as a way of launching the initiative he has in mind.
Q Mike, if the President has expressed a desire for the dialogue to be driven by the concerns and issues expressed or raised by other people, by Americans, and right now outside of the White House the debate is about an apology for slavery, why not entertain that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President disagrees with the premise of the question. He's had lots of conversations with people and very few have suggested that that's the critical issue that ought to be at the center of this process or, indeed, the issue that begins the work that he intends to do. In fact, more often, we hear that that's not the issue that ought to commence these discussions, and we hear that from people in the community and have heard that regularly.
Q Mike, 16 months after he first proposed it with Kim Yong Sam, the four-way peace talks are underway in New York today. Is the President optimistic about these talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Not quite that fast. The process by which we might arrive at four-party talks begins with these very important preparatory discussions. They are occurring at the level of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, so they are at a mid-level at this point, but they are designed to prepare what the President hopes will ultimately be higher-level talks about the future of the Korean Peninsula. It is encouraging that all four parties are now engaged in at least the preparatory process. We hope that it will lead to ongoing dialogue that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Q Mike, is the President going to sign an executive order on smoking, and if so, when?
MR. MCCURRY: He may, and when is undetermined.
Q This week?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule it out.
Q Back on Medicare for a moment. Speaker Gingrich made a pledge this morning that when that Medicare commission comes back in 1999, that year the Congress would intend to enact reforms, long-term Medicare reforms. Number one, do you see the White House acting before that? And number two, if the White House doesn't act before then, is that also your time frame, and 1999 will be the year?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has said that he does not rule out that you could begin to address those issues even during the course of 1998, for the reason I mentioned briefly earlier -- that in a sense we have set some of the long-term entitlement issues outside the standard political parameters by now having already reached an agreement on balancing the budget, some of the traditional problems that have existed in finding the political will to addressing entitlement issues are less in the forefront as a result of the legislation the President signed today.
The President has not ruled out the possibility that they could move ahead in 1998. At the same time, the law now enacted and signed by the President has a very specific timetable with respect to the Medicare issues and it does call for a report by 1999. But the President certainly welcomed the Speaker's pledge to work cooperatively to address these issues, and I think the attitude of the White House would be let's be ready to go as early in 1999 and address these issues so we can continue the momentum towards bipartisan resolution of serious budget issues.
Q What's the President's intention on Social Security, the other big entitlement that has long-term problems?
MR. MCCURRY: Do not neglect the fact that there are serious 21st century issues with respect to the Social Security program that will also need to be addressed. The President has not specified how he will address those, but certainly made it clear that there needs to be a process that addresses those issues along with Medicare issues as well.
Q I'm sorry -- he's said he wants a commission on that as well?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not said that. He said that there should be a similar bipartisan process. I don't think -- obviously, the President doesn't rule out the concept of a commission.
Q He doesn't see these, Medicare and Social Security working in tandem as both entitlement issues?
MR. MCCURRY: John, they have similar issues that arise only because of demographics, talking about the same drain on a social insurance program because of the number of people who will draw on those programs in the second and third decades of the 21st century -- i.e., the baby boom. But the two funds are separate, in a sense, the structure of the programs are different, the way in which you would achieve savings in these entitlement programs are not necessarily related. So they're directly related because we're dealing with a common demographic phenomenon, but they're not necessarily similar in the way you would approach them as questions of public policy. But that doesn't mean that there wouldn't be ways in which you might find some common solutions.
Q Does he want the process to begin this year?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will have more to say in the future about the process we'll use to begin addressing these entitlement reform issues. He made it clear, as he did just the other day, that they will be on his agenda, and he intends to pursue very vigorous work to address what will be a fundamental question facing all America as we go into the 21st century. It's something the President clearly wants to work on in the balance of his term.
Q UPS strike -- even though he's decided Taft-Hartley considerations don't apply, isn't the President concerned enough about what's happening to ask the parties to come here and try and work something out?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is concerned and he is monitoring what the parties are saying and what the parties are -- what their intents are at this point. He also continues to encourage both parties and did so as recently as today through Mr. Lindsey, encouraged them to return to the table and negotiate.
Q There's no rush in getting personally involved at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's personal involvement has been to have a close member of his senior staff continue to monitor the work of the parties and to encourage them to go back to the bargaining table where, ultimately, they're going to have to resolve any differences.
Q Mike, what specifically did Bruce Lindsey do today in that regard?
MR. MCCURRY: Just, I think, talk to UPS officials again and to the federal mediator just to get an update on the status and again encourage all parties to attempt to resolve their differences through collective bargaining.
Q Those were phone calls?
MR. MCCURRY: Phone calls.
Q If it goes on for a week or two or whatever, couldn't it then have some -- start to have some economic impact?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, economic impact under the Taft-Hartley Act is not the trigger for the request for a board of inquiry to be empaneled. It is a significant disruption that imperils the safety and health of the nation, which is a different and much higher standard, and, obviously, we will continue to assess the impact. There will be an economic impact that will be assessed by the White House. But just economic impact alone is not the standard for triggering anything under the Taft-Hartley Act.
Q Mike, can you give us an update on the discussions here about that line item veto or the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be some discussions today and tomorrow on that subject and the recommendations towards the end of the week to the President based on the review that's made.
Q Mike, anything new on Weld? The Senate is out; is he coming back here?
MR. MCCURRY: No, nothing new.
Q No, but is he coming back to Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard -- I've heard that he is out of town this week, I believe. I don't anticipate him here this week.
Q Mike, next week India is going to celebrate 50 years of independence, and the President has been invited -- for a ceremony and also here in Washington by the Indian community. Is he going to attend any of the ceremonies?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll could check on that. I don't know. I know that we will have an appropriate congratulatory statement.
Q To go back to the UPS strike, under Taft-Hartley, would the President be considering an advisory panel or a board of inquiry to explore whether he should invoke Taft-Hartley?
MR. MCCURRY: The President could only appoint a board of inquiry if, in his opinion, the strike or lockout affects an entire industry or a substantial part thereof, engaged in trade, commerce, transportation, transmission or communication among the several states or with foreign nations, or engaged in the production of goods and commerce if the strike -- if it were allowed to continue, the strike would imperil the national health or safety.
That's a pretty broad standard. You need some indication that an entire industry is affected and that it is imperiling the health and safety of the nation. I think clearly that standard has not been reached at this point and in the view of the President that we, as I say, will continue to monitor it.
Q Would it be possible that the impact that it is having where other carriers -- I mean, small businesses, for example, are having to pay higher fees to get onto other carriers and other carriers are now saying that they're more expensive and they're experiencing delays -- would that fit the standard?
MR. MCCURRY: You're describing economic impact, you're not describing and imminent threat that imperils the health and safety of the nation, which is the standard and the statute.
Q Mike, could you spell out what the review into the line item veto is actually weighing up, what the criteria are, what sorts of judgments are being made, what the considerations are?
MR. MCCURRY: I think ultimately they're looking at each of the provisions that have been identified by a joint committee on taxation as to whether they are good economic policy, good social policy, good tax policy. And they have to make a careful determination in each case whether something, in the eyes of the White House and the administration, represents good policy.
Q What about the politics of perhaps ill will?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a good question, Wolf, and we would acknowledge in some cases some of these provisions are there and that we knew they would be there as a result of the negotiations that went to the balanced budget agreement. And those will stay in place because as a matter of good faith the President has indicated he would leave them in place. That does not necessarily define all 80 of the provisions that we have under review.
Q Would the review include actually talking with the Republicans about some of these issues and saying, what about this one?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, include staff-to-staff contact to understand better what the intent or impact of an individual provision has been. I imagine there have been some staff contacts on that.
Q What about the legal considerations? Are lawyers looking at them, too, since --
MR. MCCURRY: The Legal Counsel's Office has been involved in this because we are, obviously, in uncharted waters and we do anticipate some legal challenge to the President's ability to use this authority.
Q Almost automatic?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been a number of parties that have indicated that they would challenge the President's authority to use the line item veto pursuant to the recent decision by the Court which more or less invited parties that were aggrieved parties to step forward as plaintiffs.
Q So the Legal Counsel's involvement is to, should he use the veto, to choose an item that --
MR. MCCURRY: Just to keep an eye on the constitutional issues that arise because of a likelihood of a challenge.
Q Mike, Gephardt has written him a letter asking him to line-item-veto the tax provision affecting the tobacco industry. Would that be one of the things off-limits because of --
MR. MCCURRY: It's not on -- it is not currently on the list that's being identified as one of the limited tax items that would be subject to the line item veto.
Q So you continue to view that as off limits?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the law requires joint tax committee to identify the provisions as the bill is written, and that provision is not on it. I don't think the line item veto is available in the case of that particular item.
Q Just to clarify this on the line item veto, you're saying that only in instances where the White House did not know that a provision was in there will it be part of the line item veto?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't say --
Q You said that there are some parts that you knew about that were --
MR. MCCURRY: Some of the provisions -- on the list of -- what -- 79 or 80 items, there are some things in there that were clearly reflected in negotiations that occurred and that we will remain true to the agreement that we reached with those that we negotiated with. There are a lot of other items that don't fall in that category.
Q What were one or two of them?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I'm not -- this is as far as I'm going to go on the substance of this.
Q Mike, does the President plan to increase or decrease our people in Haiti, and when and how many?
MR. MCCURRY: The President continues to support the newly extended -- the U.N. has acted to extend the U.N. mission there. We have about 400 -- an engineer battalion that is there in support of that mission, not part of it, but it is a U.S. presence that is there. It's primarily involved in road building and some other engineering activities in support of the international mission. We don't foresee any immediate change in the level of deployment there. It's about 400.
Q Mike, just to return to the tax and line item veto for a second. Were any of those 79 or 80 provisions ones that the administration itself had recommended? I've heard that some of them may have come from the administration.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. Do you know the answer to that?
MR. TOIV: There probably are.
MR. MCCURRY: There may be some in the list of -- the list of 79 may be, my recollection looking at it, there may be some that reflect specific things that we had wanted to get done within the context of a tax bill. But I don't -- I'm not going to be able to walk through all 80 provisions at this point, nor do I think that's fair to the people who are doing exactly that kind of review on behalf of the President. We'll just wait and see what kind of analysis they make later in the week.
Q Does that mean that the White House actually might -- that the President might actually veto one of the items recommended by the White House in the first place, it's conceivable?
MR. MCCURRY: I tend to think we would not veto something that we asked that we have in the bill.
Q So why -- but you're suggesting that those items written by the White House are subject to the same depth of review as the ones --
MR. MCCURRY: They're going to go through each of those provisions and see the tax language as it was enacted in law might have changed what was generically suggested. They've got to do -- you know, how does it match what originally was suggested, how closely does it come from legislative language that Treasury had done. It's a fairly technical exercise, I think.
Q What happens to those, if they are identified and the President strikes line items and it's challenged in court, are those provisions put on hold?
MR. MCCURRY: The purpose of the litigation is to overturn the veto. The President would strike them from the enacted law so that they no longer become effective. And the purpose of the litigation, presumably, would be to challenge his authority to do so.
Q But in the meantime --
MR. MCCURRY: The court could then overturn the President's authority to do that and let the enacted law stand as signed, presumably. I mean, that would be up to the court to decide in writing the opinion.
Q Would you be specifically looking for a provision within -- out of those 79 or 80, specifically looking for one that would somehow define the way the court case would go?
MR. MCCURRY: I tell you, you guys have got a lot of interest in this, and check back with us on Thursday. I'll be happy to get into that. Or you may want to ask the President tomorrow. But we're not stepping on today's story. (Laughter.)
Q Speaking of tomorrow, Mike, could you dig into some of the subjects that are on the President's mind?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, anything you want to ask about -- you know, the bridge to the future, the architecture of the post-Cold War era, the strong strength and performance of the economy. I think the President will be interested in talking about entitlement reform and all the things that -- that softball. Do you want to try again?
Q Okay, let's try that again. I want to actually switch up subjects first. Back on the UPS strike. You mentioned health and safety as a trigger concern. There is some talk that the guarantees are coming off in terms of delivering goods and services, and one of those goods and services providers are hospitals for blood supplies. Are you concerned that that trigger hasn't already been hit?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course we're concerned about aspects of the trial, the disruptions that have occurred, the dislocations. The question is whether it affects an entire industry in the fashion that the Taft-Hartley Act suggests and whether it imperils national health and safety, and it has not, in the opinion of the White House and the President, reached that point.
Q One more on India. Talking about India-U.S. relations, there are several bills in the U.S. Congress that keep coming in one after another on India, bills by a handful of congressmen -- and number two, do you think they're going to make any effect on India-U.S. relations? And then --
MR. MCCURRY: You haven't asked about specific bills, but as a general proposition, I'm familiar with some of the provisions you're no doubt asking about. In general, the administration has taken the view that carve-outs within the context of the Foreign Authorization bill are detrimental because they tie the President's hands when it comes to the conduct of foreign policy. We have so expressed that view to Congress. That's true with respect to some provisions that have affected India and, frankly, is true of some separate provisions that have affected Pakistan and other places in the subcontinent.
But it remains our view that we have to work with our Congress and try to iron out those issues, and then effectively administer the law afterwards.
Q The last, human rights abuses in India -- what do you think about human rights abuses in India?
MR. MCCURRY: We feel about human rights in India what the State Department said in its annual human rights report, and I'll refer you to that.
Q And finally one more follow-up. In the last 50 years, how do you view the relations between the U.S. and India and the future?
MR. MCCURRY: We've gone through an extraordinary period of change as a result of the end of the Cold War and our relations now are closer than they have been in quite some time. We continue to attach great value and importance to the United States relationship with India, one of -- the largest democracy on the face of the earth, and the President will no doubt reflect many of these same sentiments when he makes the 50th anniversary statement that you're trying to get me to make for him. (Laughter.)
Q Let me just clarify one more thing on the slavery apology. When you say it's put aside, put that issue aside, does that mean that you rule out the President making any apology for slavery until the commission comes back?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that is an issue that the President is launched into as he begins the serious work of addressing some of the real issues that are fundamental to white-black relations in this country. That's not the place that he chooses to begin this dialogue, it's not likely the place that he will go anytime soon in this dialogue, it's something that acknowledging that there are some voices that have expressed concern about that, it's something fully appropriate for the Advisory Committee to think about and talk about at a future date, but I don't anticipate the President putting any of the focus of his energy on that subject anytime soon.
Q Mike, just to clarify what you said before that, in fact, the Advisory Commission has no instructions to look at this. It sounds like he wants this issue to sort of drift away, right?
MR. MCCURRY: He made it clear from the day this came up in San Diego that that would appropriate for them to look at. No change in that.
Q But he hasn't asked for a recommendation or given them any sort of directions to report back to him?
MR. MCCURRY: If there's sufficient interest on the Board to examine that issue, you all should take it up.
Q Mike, has there been any other movement on the FCC chairmanship and have there been any talks between the White House and Senator Hollings?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been movement, probably been talks, but there have been nothing else that I can report at this point.
Q Mike, when's the next Race Advisory Board meeting and when is the President's next dialogue on race?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course, obviously, he raised it and addressed it yesterday when he spoke at the Urban League and intends to have it with the leadership -- no doubt raise that again tonight at 5:45 p.m.
Q I'm talking mainstream America -- when's the next time?
MR. MCCURRY: When's the next scheduled meeting? I think the next -- beginning the President's vacation coming up -- his next major event currently scheduled is when he addresses some of these issues at the anniversary down at Central High in Little Rock.
Q The President has until tomorrow to act on the Taxpayer Browsing Act, which cuts down on the IRS sneaking into files inappropriately. Do you know --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to check on that for you -- sounds like I'm in favor, but I don't know whether the President is or not.
Q Could you put out a transcript maybe of the President's remarks that April referred to earlier?
MR. MCCURRY: We will if we -- again, we always give the new organization in question the right of first airing. As long as they have aired it sufficient to their exclusive interest, then we will put out a transcript, sure.
Q Mike, you said that five days for the line-item --you had said yesterday that it's Monday. If he signed it today, shouldn't it be Tuesday?
MR. TOIV: Doesn't include Sunday. It doesn't include Sunday.
Q But it does include Saturday?
Q What did he do? Veto Sunday? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Sunday -- the day of the Lord is a day of rest in the eyes of the calendar makers.
MR. TOIV: So Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday.
MR. MCCURRY: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday -- is that the Barry Toiv interpretation or is that what the Clerk's Office says? (Laughter.) He's been right. He has been -- I say that because Barry has more often been more correct than the experts.
MR. TOIV: I got that from an expert.
MR. MCCURRY: An expert. (Laughter.)
Q Than it's suspect.
MR. MCCURRY: But I imagine it will be later this week.
Q Other than the news conference, is there anything on the President's schedule for tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: That's enough for one day. I think -- not that I know of. Is he doing anything else? No, not that I know of.
Q A gaggle?
MR. MCCURRY: Gaggle? Yes, if you have to, I will.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:51 P.M. EDT