THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, good Friday, good end of the week. And see you Monday. (Laughter.) Someday that will work.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to today's daily press briefing here at the White House. The President, earlier today, launched an initiative I think will have a lot of meaning and hold out a lot of promise to the 16 million Americans who are either diagnosed with diabetes or are believed to suffer from diabetes. And you've seen most of our materials. Chris Jennings is here, the President's principal health policy advisor, and can help you if you've got any questions related to any aspect of the initiative today. I think it was pretty straightforward and the materials were clear.
Q Can I ask a health question that's not related to diabetes?
MR. MCCURRY: Why don't you ask me first and then I'll see if Chris wants to --
Q At the press conference the President talked about building on the child health care program that was signed in. What is he talking about and what more does he want to do?
MR. JENNINGS: Exactly what did he say again? No. (Laughter.) He said building on what we've already been doing?
Q Right. He wanted to expand. What does he mean?
MR. JENNINGS: Well, first of all, we have as a fundamental base over the next four years we're going to be covering another million children from 13 to age 18 under the Medicaid program. And really what he simply was talking about was this $24 billion investment and building on that success under his administration. And as you know, we've been talking about -- we think that can cover up to 5 million more children.
Q So there's nothing new in this initiative, this is just explaining --
MR. JENNINGS: Not that he's told me yet. But, no, that's really -- that's it. We're going to be working with the states -- the one other issue that's very important here is that he feels very -- it should be one of our highest priorities, as you know, there's three million children who are currently eligible for the Medicaid program, but are not enrolled, and he would like to work with the governors in a very significant way to do a lot more effective outreach to target those kids, and then build on that success by using these additional dollars.
Q So that's the last step in the last step --
MR. JENNINGS: No, it's not the last step. We have -- there are many, many populations that -- as you know, the President earlier this year talked about covering workers in between jobs, people who have lost or are changing jobs, to make health care affordable. It's something that he still remains interested in. There are a lot of other populations, including elderly retired workers who have yet to become eligible for the Medicare program. There's a lot of steps before we've completed our full step-by-step.
Q Thank you very much.
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks, Chris.
Q How did you come to -- Turkish government to --four days prior to the talks in Switzerland? And how does the President feel about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe the President necessarily interprets the statement that was made by the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and the Turkish Foreign Minister in exactly that fashion. We would say that the announcement that was made of this association council -- we do not believe that the announcement of an association council made by the leader and by the Foreign Minister was helpful, because we don't want to see steps taken which undermine the U.N. negotiating process.
I think, as you know, the U.N. process has another round scheduled in Switzerland coming up later this week. And that is a process that the United States strongly supports. And we believe that is the correct venue for the resolution of differences between the two parties and between those on the outside who are concerned about an attempt to influence the parties as they seek resolution.
But our goal and the goal of the international community will remain a settlement of the dispute and we urge the parties to take steps forward that will advance a solution, not to take steps independently that will undermine the confidence that they have that they can resolve the differences they do have.
Q Is your position this specific action -- what is your position?
MR. MCCURRY: The specific announcement of this association council? We do not believe that was a helpful step.
Q Mike, a panel of scientific experts today has recommended scientific tests for the possible use of marijuana for medical uses and the NIH is saying that it will entertain such tests. What's the administration's position on this and will you entertain a change in policy, drug policy?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll need to check on that. I do believe that is what -- I think NIH was reflecting what we are currently doing. General McCaffrey, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has said that that should be explored as a question of science. And we've acknowledged that there should be proper scientific experimentations on that -- but no change in our view that that is not a wiser, warranted step at this time.
Q Mike, the United Parcel Service says upwards of 100,000 small businesses have written the White House saying you need to do something about the strike. Is that, in fact, what has happened? Have you been inundated by appeals?
MR. MCCURRY: Mark, I checked. I don't have a specific count for you. We have had heavy to moderate volume of mail on this, really on both sides of the dispute. We certainly have heard from small businesses that have been concerned about or affected directly by the strike. And we've also heard from supporters of the Teamsters Union who uphold their right to strike under our nation's labor laws.
All the more reason, in our view, for the parties to continue their discussions and we hope those discussions will result in a settlement of the dispute. We are encouraged that have been taken and the President publicly commends both President Carey and the Chairman and CEO Kelly from UPS for their willingness to devote the time and the energy they have now over the last 24 hours to mutual discussions that we hope will lead to a resolution.
Q Mike, the governors of Iowa and Virginia have both written the President asking him to step in. Is it still the plan not to intervene, and would he respond directly to them?
MR. MCCURRY: We continue through the Secretary of Labor to monitor the discussions they are having, and of course, they will continue through our economic counsel here to monitor any impact on the economy. But remember the standard under the statute is a situation that imperils the nation's safety and health. We don't believe we have reached that point yet. That is the grounds upon which the President could invoke the back-to-work provisions of Taft-Hartley. That is rarely done and there's no indicator at this point that that's under consideration.
Q Will he formally respond to those two governors?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I'm sure, he'll be happy to tell the governors that he understands and sympathizes with the plights of their constituents and many that we have heard from here at the White House who have been affected by the strike. But really, the best place for them to address the mail is to the Teamsters Union and to UPS, because they are the ones that need to get to the bargaining table and resolve the dispute. But we are, again, encouraged and commend the efforts underway by both parties to attempt to reach a settlement.
Q Are you trying to monitor these issues that could make it a national health crisis or safety crisis, or whatever? I mean, blood supplies, medicines, that kind of thing.
MR. MCCURRY: We are concerned. We have heard some reports concerning blood supplies and that they're being monitored by the Secretary of Labor and will involve other agencies as necessary, and as time goes on the impact of the strike on the nation's health and safety may change. We acknowledge that. But at this point, we have not seen that type of underlying effect.
Q Can I go back to Bill's question? I just want to make sure I understand -- you don't support medical use of marijuana, but you do support at least studying to see what --
MR. MCCURRY: Paul, I'll double-check that. I really refer you to General McCaffrey. Our view has been we have not been in favor of any form of medicinal use; we think that that sends the wrong message. But at the same time we've acknowledged that it should be explored as a question of science. I believe that's what General McCaffrey said on the past. I'm just restating things that he has said in the past.
Q Do you know if the AIDS czar agrees with that, since it's an issue that AIDS victims would like resolved?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll double-check, but I believe that is the position -- the unified position of the administration.
Q So, Mike, the studies, if there are grants made and studies show more concrete evidence that it's of medical use --
MR. MCCURRY: That's precisely the reason why we think there should be further review and scientific review of the possible benefits of medicinal use.
Q I mean, you're open to possibly changing your position on this --
MR. MCCURRY: We're always open to factual information.
Q Line item veto -- can you read the tea leaves for us?
MR. MCCURRY: Have a nice weekend, see you Monday. (Laughter.) Now, as in direct response to your question, I'm reading tea leaves there. (Laughter.) But I don't really have much of a sense at this -- the President has not made a decision. He has indicated to some people here he wants to get this right. This is -- remember, no time in the history of the country has a President exercised line item veto. So this being the first time -- if it is to be the first time -- the President wants to assure that it's done properly and he wants to think very carefully about the circumstances in which he would use this authority.
There will be other opportunities, to be sure, to be use it. But if it's used this time, he wants to make sure it's the right decision and he's going to take the time necessary to assure himself that it is, indeed, in the nation's interest. And that will take as long as it needs to take, with the understanding that at midnight Monday he no longer has the authority to cancel any items from this particular legislation.
Q First of all, has he met today on the subject, or does he plan to?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had an Economic Council team meeting with Mr. Bowles earlier this morning, and Mr. Bowles briefed the President on that late in the morning. The President has asked for some follow-up work on two or three particular questions and he's indicated he would be thinking about it.
Q If he decides not to do anything, will you announce that or will you simply let midnight Monday go by?
MR. MCCURRY: I will not leave you in suspense, nor will you leave me unasked. (Laughter.)
Q You said this morning he's still inclined to veto something and to exercise it now.
MR. MCCURRY: As he said at the press conference, he's inclined to use this authority to demonstrate that it is the tool that he said it would be. But at the same time, it has to be properly used to be an effective tool.
Q But since the press conference he's had a chance to sit down and actually look at what's available for veto. Has that thinking changed, has that inclination changed?
MR. MCCURRY: You're correct, that's what he's done.
Q Mike, are spending measures on the list as well as tax benefits?
MR. MCCURRY: They are examining a very limited number of provisions, some from the tax legislation, some from the balanced budget legislation.
Q There are reports that it's down to five.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, three, four, five -- however many.
Q More than five, less than five?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, as we already told you, there are only a handful of provisions that he's looking at. In fact, I think it's fair to see some of them go in and out of focus, depending on additional information that we get.
Q You don't sound as certain as he sounded a few days ago in terms of this being the first test. Does the possibility --
MR. MCCURRY: My apologies, then. I should have sounded exactly like the President. I just must have not quite gotten it right.
Q As a factual matter, does the Congress get another bite of the cherry? Is it possible to override the President's veto?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Under the statute, a cancellation of an item -- the President sends a statement of cancellation back to the Congress. They must then pass a resolution of disapproval of that statement, both Houses passing by majority amounts. That is then subject to a veto, which could be returned by the President, which is then subject to the two-thirds vote.
Mr. Toiv, is that correct?
MR. TOIV: That's correct.
MR. MCCURRY: Pretty good, huh? (Laughter.)
Q Mike, does this mean we will have an announcement on the radio address on tobacco?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I already gave you about as much as I've got at this point on that subject, but I wouldn't rule that out.
Q Tobacco -- on that report --
MR. MCCURRY: That's what he just asked. And I kind of dodged it -- I dodged, but hinted. (Laughter.)
Q Always helpful.
Q Will we get an advance --
MR. MCCURRY: I guess the way to answer the question is we have not announced the subject of the Saturday radio address, nor have we ruled out that it might deal with the tobacco executive order. That's a way of saying something without saying anything.
Q If I could try again.
MR. MCCURRY: Try again.
Q You said you should sound like the President sounded. That was a couple of days ago --
MR. MCCURRY: That's what Press Secretaries always do.
Q -- and a lot has happened since then. Is the President less gung-ho and less certain that he'll find something to veto now that he's looked at the list and pored over all the different considerations?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President is certain, as he said earlier in the week, that he will find an opportunity to use the authority and I think that he's still looking very carefully at the prospects of using it in connection with this legislation. But, as I said, he's thinking about it and wants to think about it further.
Q And when you say he's certain, he'll find an opportunity, do you mean on this particular piece of legislation or eventually?
MR. MCCURRY: I sort of was just about as oblique about that as he was on the press conference Wednesday, seeking to sound exactly like the President.
Q He wasn't really that oblique, though.
Q He wasn't oblique -- Wolf clarified it --
Q You were much more oblique.
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf clarified it? You call that a clarification? What? You wouldn't let me get away with that. (Laughter.)
Anything else? We've got about all we can do on that subject.
Q Mike, you gave a little bit of, sort of a tongue-in-cheek answer when it came earlier in the week about why UPS is different than the baseball strike. I was wondering if you could give a serious answer?
MR. MCCURRY: Amplify that? Sure.
Q I mean, does the reluctance to get in this, even absent formal legal authority, reflect some sense that, look, this is hotter than it looks, as revealed by the baseball strike, where it didn't work?
MR. MCCURRY: Reveal those two situations -- I mean, those two situations were very different in what was happening factually at the time the President actually took some steps. In the baseball strike, both parties got stuck and both parties invited the President to participate in their discussions. That's not the case in this strike.
Nor, in the case of the baseball strike, did the President trigger any aspect of the Taft-Hartley Act. There was no direct action conforming to his statutory authority to launch a board of inquiry. He was merely, at the request of the parties, at the table to see if he could help them make headway prior to a strike. This is a much different situation since they have already exhausted their efforts with the Federal Mediation Council, they are in a strike situation, there are aspects of the Taft-Hartley Act that then trigger in and apply, and you have one party who seems publicly to be encouraging the President's participation, and the other party seems to believe that's not necessary because they're attempting to redress their grievances consistent with federal labor law.
So two very different situations affecting two very different sectors of our economy. One an entertainment sector and national pastime and something I think where the President felt his good offices as President would be usefully employed; the other a significant sector of our economy in which acting and conforming strictly with federal labor laws is very appropriate.
Is that serious enough?
Q Is it accurate to say that the President supports the use of a line item veto but that he's no longer committed or is certain to -- he feels is the test for it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President thinks it is a valuable tool, strongly supports it, is likely to use it, and when he uses it will make sure that it's done in the best interests of the American people.
Q And he will do it by Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: That may happen Monday and possibly even before.
Q Mike, has the White House talked to Senator Lugar at all about his latest tactics in trying to force Jesse Helms' hand?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the White House doesn't have a mouth but it has a lot of people, and some of the people -- I haven't talked to all the people here, I'm not aware of anyone who has talked to Senator Lugar. He's acting on his own. I believe his remarks were made to reporters and, as far as I know, we are unaware that he was making his remarks prior to his delivery of them.
Q Are you concerned that his --
Q I thought you were the White House mouth.
Q You don't have a mouth?
MR. MCCURRY: No mouth? No. Buildings can't talk. Buildings are structures. We are going to talk in a minute about what we're going to do to make this building a much nicer place.
Q Before you get to that --
MR. MCCURRY: One thing we will not do is allow it to speak in the King's English.
Q Have you had a chance that since the last time the topic was broached, which I believe was yesterday, to inquire about the President's weight or how much he's lost, or his general physical condition? Perhaps you can expatiate on his general physical well-being, how it's improved.
MR. MCCURRY: President Bill Clinton, looking good, feeling good. (Laughter.)
Q Better than before?
MR. MCCURRY: Slimmer President Bill Clinton, looking good, feeling good. (Laughter.)
Q As a result of?
MR. MCCURRY: Mostly as a result of working out. When he injured his knee, his therapist put him through an exercise regimen that allowed him to work -- he had to work upper-body strength and things like that, much of what we've briefed you on in the past. And the President has followed a strict diet set up by his doctors and he has lost some weight. And I think that's obvious to some of you.
Q -- publish the diet?
Q Oh, that's a winner -- the President's weight loss diet.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it's a low calorie diet and you could get any doctor or any dietary specialist could tell you how to do it. But he feels good about that, and contrary to what is normally indicated in the case of a knee injury like that in which patients do gain weight, he, in fact, lost some weight, and that's a good thing.
Q Is he really only eating two meals a day?
MR. MCCURRY: He's eating sensibly and they reduced his caloric intake and he was fairly disciplined about keeping to that schedule.
Q Mike, is there another line item veto meeting set for today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know. They had a meeting this morning, briefed the President on it. There is some follow-up work being done and maybe some random caucuses that will occur on the subject.
Q Are you suggesting -- they did sit down with him last evening. Is that the only meeting the team is going to have with him?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they had another session with him today that reflected some of the team's work and he may have another meeting with his team later on in the weekend.
Q Mike, do you know when the White House plans to answer Thompson's subpoena for more documents? And do you know whether or not there are any more call sheets for any of the four principals here at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I, myself, do not know the answer to the question. I'm not aware of any and I know that the Counsel's Office is working to expeditiously respond to the committee's subpoenas, consistent with the President's desire to be fully cooperative.
Q Did you ask him -- yesterday you said you would -- what he meant by the foreign money?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't ask him directly, but I looked into it and I confirmed with him is this what he meant. He was simply saying up until now, if our understanding is correct, the DNC has returned just over $1 million to contributors that are believed to be foreign source contributions. It was established by the Senate Government Affairs Committee, during their hearings, that a donation of $1.6 million coming from a foreign source had been routed through an entity and used in Republican Party campaigns -- that being a larger amount than the $1 million returned by the DNC.
Q Mike, on the UPS strike, does the President share the sympathies and the side expressed by the union, which is there are too many part-time, disposable workers without benefits, contingency disposable work force?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I will refrain from taking a specific position on an issue that's a dispute between these two parties at this moment. As a general proposition, the President has been concerned about employee benefit coverage for workers in the work force. One thing we believe is that a time of near full employment in our economy it ought to be more possible for private sector employers to be somewhat more generous in the provision of benefits to workers. And that includes both full-time, salaried positions, and then when that's not available, part-time work that's covered with some measure of an acceptable employee benefits package.
Pension coverage is important. Health insurance coverage is important. Disability coverage is important -- all as part of the private sector provided safety net that works with the government provided safety net to provide for the economic security of the American people.
Q He doesn't believe that these kinds of things represent economic damage that would trigger the Taft-Hartley law?
MR. MCCURRY: The damage to individual employees that would be done? It's significant, important, but that's not the same as imperiling the safety and health of the entire nation, which is what the Taft-Hartley statute addresses.
Q Mike, does the White House grant those benefits to part-time workers here?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. I believe federal -- well, interns are not paid so they're not employed. But I believe part-time workers are covered in some measure under federal employee benefits. But you should check at OPM; they could tell you more about that.
Okay. Can I do my --
Q Back to Lugar for a second. Is the President worried or concerned that Lugar's tactics will only make it worse for Weld, backfire?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I'd say that. I think the President understands that within the Senate if there's going to be forward progress on the Weld nomination there's likely to be some jockeying and some interesting internal debate, and we encourage that. There needs to be that kind of internal debate so that we can move this forward.
But let's return to the basics here. The President, as a nation's chief foreign policymaker, has nominated a U.S. ambassador. That's his prerogative under the Constitution. It's the part of the United States Senate to advise and consent, but that's a process that ultimately involves all 100 senators. So as the senators advise and consent, they'll probably do a little advising and consenting with each other. And that's a good thing. That's the way the process should work and we encourage that. A little mischief always keeps the summer more interesting anyhow, right?
All right. Let me do week ahead. Week ahead is an event Monday to be -- everything is an event to be determined. What good is this? (Laughter.) Well, we have the radio address tomorrow; subject unknown because the deliberations continue.
Sunday, no public schedule. Monday, events to be determined in the White House. (Laughter.) To be determined because decisions are to be determined. But it will be one or the other, and you've already guessed the way that's going to work.
Tuesday, the President goes to St. Louis, Missouri, for the events that I've told you about in the past. He's very interested in describing some of the work we are doing to advance welfare reform, specifically we are encouraged by some of the response from the private sector community to the President's challenge to put a million people on the payroll coming off of the welfare rolls, and we'll have some good progress to report on that Tuesday. Credit Eli Segal and others who have been working on this. You know he has been working on the task force that is working within the private sector to develop employment opportunities for formerly welfare-dependent mothers. And the President looks forward to talking more about that progress.
And then we have a DNC fundraiser Tuesday night.
Q I imagine Congressman Gephardt will be part of those proceedings.
MR. MCCURRY: He is indeed, and the President is looking forward to spending time with the Minority Leader. And that will be fine. No one here is crying about that. No one is upset about that. Everything is hunky-dory.
Q Is it a DNC fundraiser or a Gephardt fundraiser?
MR. MCCURRY: DNC fundraiser.
Q That's an evening event?
MR. MCCURRY: DNC is an evening event, yes -- 8:30 p.m.
And then, Wednesday, the President participates in a health-related event. And I'm led to believe that's a children's health-related event here at the White House. And then he's also -- remember there were some -- the Mayor of Oklahoma City has been interested in bringing a group in to review some of the plans for an Oklahoma City memorial. And we elected not to do that during the period that the trial was underway, but we will do that Wednesday afternoon.
Thursday we have an event here at the White House that I believe will relate to freedom of expression, when it comes to religious observances. That's just a little hint, something to work on.
Q It will be religious observance rather than, say, Internet?
MR. MCCURRY: No, different than that.
And then, Friday an event that really is to be determined. I don't think they've -- I think they've got a couple of options on something to do Friday. So it will be a busy week. The President plans to broadcast his weekly radio address live Saturday, August 16, and then depart for his well-deserved vacation on Sunday, August 17th, stopping first in Block Island and then to Martha's Vineyard.
Q You may have already answered this at some point, but if the President does ban smoking in federal workplaces, where will White House smokers go?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. They'd have to comply with whatever the terms of the order.
Okay, let me do this housekeeping thing. I first want to pay a happy birthday farewell tribute to Lorri McHugh. Lorri is leaving us, unfortunately. And she has been, for me, as you know, the principal deputy in the press office who really has run the entire operation and has dealt very often with so many things that affect your lives day in and day out. But she has also been equally agreeable and effective in dealing with the things that affect our lives, and our lives will be much poorer and diminished because she is leaving for very good reasons to go to the private sector.
We will miss you. She can't really quite break away, so she's still going to be around here for a couple of days and then take some vacation and then not actually leave until September. So we'll have some chances to say farewell to her along the way. But this is officially her last day, even though, consistent with her customary commitment to the job, it won't actually be the last day. And part of the reason for that is because the White House is launching an ambitious renovation project during these quiet summer weeks that will involve a lot of digging and scraping and carpeting and general nuisance that will make life miserable for all of us.
Now, for the details, let me turn it -- I want to put this on the record because I just want to make sure -- I think most people here have heard some of this already and we have been working closely with the Correspondents Association and the networks and the independent pool and others to plan out some of what I'm about to describe to you, but I think it's important for me to have this in the transcript so that those who are not here on a day-to-day basis know some of the things that will happen, beginning when the President departs for his vacation, in the way we do work around here.
First, our lovely little quarters here above the swimming pool will be spruced up, and they're going to lay new carpet tiles and they will do some painting here. Looks like you could use that.
Q Carpet tiles or carpet?
MR. MCCURRY: Carpet tiles, so they don't have to dig up the chairs and take them out. They're just going to, somehow or other, do it without removing chairs. They're doing it that way because I knew that there would then be immediate interest in changing the number and employment of these chairs, so we could change the arrangement of the bodies that sit in them. A subject you will never see me walk anywhere near. Uh-uh.
Okay. The GSA is also going to be working with Fox News to create a new booth for them. They are now a full-fledged member of the network pool and so they, properly, are seeking to obtain a booth downstairs. And they will do some renovations in connection with their booth. This work is all going to begin on August 18th, and it should be completed prior to the President returning from his vacation.
We had not planned to do briefings or conduct activity here, so that's good news. But it does mean that you all would be advised to assist us by getting your computer, electrical, and other material and equipment that are on the floors out of here. That's probably the best solution. It should be removed or at least put at desk level by the close of business on Sunday, August 17th.
Now, there is going to be a lot of plaster and dust and work folks moving things around, so remember that you probably, if you've got anything that's worth anything, it's probably best to remove it. And that should include things that are in file cabinets, if you have anything that is breakable in a file cabinet in your work space, you want to remove that as well.
We appreciate the networks' and the independent pool's willingness to work with us on some of this. One of the things they're going to do is remove some of the cable that a number of you have complained from time to time, and also probably find somewhere to put all these ladders that are stored here from time to time. And we appreciate the support that we're getting from the networks and the independent pool.
We also, by the way, really appreciate what GSA has done. During the course -- I'm going to tell you about some other stuff that they're doing that affects the residence and the driveway out here -- they've been very accommodating to us in giving us a lot of information so that we could brief you and, more importantly, in adjusting their work schedule so that when we get back in September and return to normal hours around here, they're actually going to stagger some of the work that they do so they don't interfere with the daily briefing here or with early morning hours and early evening hours when people are doing standups out on the lawn, which is nice.
Now, that's the press briefing room and the work space that affects things, we hope, just during the period of the vacation. By the way, you're all going to get a handout and diagrams and things that come through some of this.
Over the next 60 days, there is going to be a considerable amount of renovation work throughout the entire White House complex -- the residence and West Wing -- that is going to affect the pedestrian traffic in and out of the complex here. And you can see from the diagram basically what's going to happen.
The front of the West Wing lobby and the press briefing room door here are going to be closed and inaccessible. And they're closing two of the Secret Service entrance points out on Pennsylvania and changing the entrance point on Pennsylvania to what is currently the exit route out through West Executive Avenue. That means that in this interim period you're going to have to use your hard passes to get in and out of that gate that's at West Exec. Or the Southwest Gate, if you come in that way, that will be open to you and that means you need to know your PIN number. For all those who are listening far and wide, call us because you probably forgot your PIN number a long time ago.
We are going to make sure that we preserve equal access to visitors coming in and out of the White House in the stakeout area, since we're going to necessarily have to remove the stakeout area as we dig up most of the driveway here.
By the way, the purpose of a lot of this work is to replace some of the steam -- the pipes that carry steam heat. The basic problem they've got right now is a lot of utilities are old and need to be renovated and they've had some leaks in the steam heat going into the West Wing and the residence complex. That's the reason, among other things, why the grass keeps dying out in front of the north entrance to the West Lobby, which you see all the time. So they're basically digging this whole area up here.
The bad news is the disruption. The good news, I think, for some of the TV folks is that while they've got it dug up they're going to lay conduits so that the cabling out to the north lawn will be underground, which is a good thing.
This is real exciting, isn't it? (Laughter.)
Q Is global warming a factor here? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Why did I agree to do this on the record? Painful.
Q You said this involves the residence? What's going on in the residence?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. We are in the final -- for about 10 years now they have been upgrading the utilities in the residence because it's an old building and they've needed to update the heating, the ventilation and the air-conditioning in the residence. There has been a utility renovation project underway there for about 10 years. The current phase of the project started in August of 1994 and it runs through February of 1998. This is a Park Service project. GSA is doing the work out here, digging up the driveway, but the work in the residence is being done by the Park Service. They've been replacing and upgrading heating, ventilation, air conditioning.
They're doing, this summer, some work in the kitchen area to put a new ventilation system in the kitchen. What else? Mostly I guess heating and air-conditioning upgrades in the building itself. They're also going to be replacing the roof during the course of this project. Now, the residence upgrade is going to take a lot longer than this summer. This is going to go on 10 to 13 months, probably?
MS. MCHUGH: Well, the residence upgrades, that part is funded through February of 1998. The Secret Service gate is the longest project and that will go on until September of '98.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. So we're basically looking at over a year's worth of work out in the front. And they are, obviously, going to try to keep the disruptions for coming in and out of the press briefing area and the West Wing as minimal as possible. But it will affect everyone. It will affect all of us because the entranceway here in the West Lobby will be closed. The only way that you all will be able to get in here is through the break room.
And an announcement with respect to that: Since this new stakeout area is going to be down on West Exec and kind of at the foot of where the steps are now, and since the break room is going to have a lot of traffic through it, we will, during the duration of this project, allow you guys with your press passes to use that picnic area that's over on the other side of West Exec. So you've got a place to go, at least during the summer.
Q Mike, will the stakeout area be permanent?
MR. MCCURRY: Except for those of you who go to trendy Washington restaurants for lunch. (Laughter.)
Q The stakeout area will not be permanent, right?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. Our intent is to return status quo -- and if you want to look at it this way -- you're actually going to have somewhat better opportunity to see folks coming in and out because there will be only one entrance to the West Wing and that will be the basement entrance on West Exec.
Q Well, I was curious about the new fence. What's the purpose of the fence? That will not be -- it won't isolate us from being able to get back in our normal pattern?
MR. MCCURRY: The fence is just basically -- they're fencing off the area in which they're going to be doing the construction, mostly for safety, probably for regulatory reasons, too. So this all will be dug up here and the fence will just route you on your way across what is kind of the front lawn now and then down these back stairs to get in.
Q While you're talking about that walkway, what plans have you all made for handicapped colleagues? Will they be able to come in some other way so they can avoid that steep --
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect you might be thinking of at least one person in particular, but we've had a number of conversations with individuals and made some arrangements for some individuals that have got a special need to come in through the East Wing. So we've taken care of that, I think. But if anyone has any particular problems because of the walkway that will be built coming in off of West Exec, they should contact the Press Office staff and we can help folks out.
Q What's the noise situation? Sounds like Berger is going to have a lot of noise, but will there be noise during the briefing --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. The GSA, very cooperatively has worked out a schedule that we think will work. They basically will be working around the clock, but there won't be any drilling between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. or between the hours of 5:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; that's to accommodate people doing live shots out front, and they will not drill, they tell me, during the daily press briefing, although you're free to drill on me, and they will not drill during presidential events.
Q Is the drilling going to be heard in the booths and stuff?
MS. MCHUGH: They're going to try to get most of the drilling while you're all gone, some of the hard drilling. But there will be some drilling that will take place once you're gone. The other thing is, the President's expected to travel a good deal in September so --
MR. MCCURRY: Right. We do have in this period a fair amount of travel where we're going to be out of town.
Q How is press work space area defined? Is that the open areas where -- or is that booths --
MS. MCHUGH: As far as carpeting?
Q As far as anything.
MR. MCCURRY: I think we're just referring to everything from back there beyond, where you all work.
Q New carpeting also the booths?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Mike, just a news item. Remember the Fletchers down in St. Vincent?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes.
Q They were just acquitted. The judge ordered the jury to acquit them because they were no grounds. And I was wondering if -- I know the President had spoken to the Prime Minister at the time. Is there any reaction?
MR. MCCURRY: The President spoke to the Prime Minister and we had asked that he personally review the situation to assure that things were occurring according to legal norms and according to stablished constitutional principles. We have followed closely the plight of the Fletchers. I don't think it's proper for me to comment on the verdict without knowing more about it, but obviously we welcome any effort to assure that their case is handled according to constitutional norms and accepted international practices of law.
That's not bad off the top of my head. (Laughter.)
All right. Thank you. And if you have any questions -- I forgot to say that we're doing -- we've got some folks, I think you know there was a walk-through with some GSA people who can help you out and understand the project better now, since I probably didn't explain it very well.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:20 P.M. EDT