THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts) _______________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 21, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY BARRY TOIV
Edgartown Elementary School Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
10:50 A.M. EDT
MR. TOIV: As you have seen from the paper we just put out, the President has issued an executive order establishing a presidential emergency board to investigate and make recommendations for a settlement of the current dispute between Amtrak and its employees represented by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees.
I'm happy to answer questions about that or any other issue.
Q How far has that dispute gone? Were they close to a strike?
MR. TOIV: Well, they were within the 30-day cooling-off period established by the National Mediation Board. They had not come to the end of the -- the President had until the end of that 30-day cooling-off period to take this action to prevent the possibility of a strike, and the end of that period was midnight September 4 -- 12:01 a.m. September 5, to be precise.
But he is acting a little bit early in order to ensure that Congress will be in session at the end of the 60-day period that this now establishes, so that if the situation has not been resolved by then, Congress will be able to act if it so chooses.
This action establishes, in effect, a 60-day cooling-off period. The first 30 days of this period, the board that he has set up will review the situation and make recommendations for a settlement. Then there will be another 30-day period where the parties can decide whether to accept it, and if there's no settlement after that 30-day period, the union would be free under the law to strike. Congress could conceivably act at that time to impose a settlement, as has happened on occasions in the past.
Q What kind of work does the members of this union do for Amtrak?
MR. TOIV: As there -- the union is the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, and as you might expect, they work on tracks, they work on overpasses. That's the kind of work they do.
Q Have they broken off negotiations, Barry? Is there any talks between the parties?
MR. TOIV: That -- I'm not sure if they are talking right now. Yes, I'm sorry, parties' negotiations have broken down. And that's why we're in this situation.
Q Barry, this is the same, precise action Clinton took with American Airlines --
MR. TOIV: That is exactly right. That is the last time he acted in this way under the Railway Labor Act, was in the American Airlines dispute.
Q How many times during his presidency has he --
MR. TOIV: I'm trying to get that right now. Someone I spoke with guessed in the vicinity of five, but that is a guess and I'm trying to get precise information on that.
And questions about anything else?
Q Does he have any comment on this Federal Express story, Barry, the contribution --
MR. TOIV: No, I'll refer you to Lanny on that.
Q What about soft money? Is it true that the President had agreed earlier this year to unilaterally disarm on soft money and then changed his mind?
MR. TOIV: Well, that is something that was considered, but as the President has said and as others have said, it would not be realistic for the Democratic Party to take that kind of action in the face of the Republican Party continuing to raise millions of dollars in soft money.
As you know the DNC has taken action, however, to limit soft money by limiting annual contributions to $100,000 while the Republican Party has taken no such action. In addition, as you know, the Democratic Party has repeatedly issued a challenge to the RNC to stop taking soft money, and if the Republican Party stops taking soft money, the Democratic Party will do the same.
Q The question was, is the story accurate that President Clinton agreed to do a unilateral ban and then changed his mind.
MR. TOIV: No, I think it's more accurate to say that it was under consideration.
Q So the story is not accurate? The point of the story was that Clinton had agreed to go along with it and then changed his mind. The story is inaccurate?
MR. TOIV: Correct, that's right. This was something that was under consideration.
Q Why would -- Terry McAuliffe, if I'm not mistaken, is one of the most prolific fundraisers for the DNC and for the Clinton-Gore '96. Why would he -- do you know what the justification was for him recommending something that you now say isn't realistic?
MR. TOIV: I don't know if Terry recommended that specifically or not, but -- and you would want to talk to him about his views as to why he would recommend that.
Q So you're specifically denying the report that the President had first said, okay, let's ban soft money for the DNC and then he changed his mind?
MR. TOIV: It was something that was considered. But, again -- and it was something, as Mike says in the story, it would have been -- it would be a nice thing to do, but not very realistic, given the fact that the Republican Party would have been under no such limitation.
Q Anything going on with the Weld nomination?
MR. TOIV: But let me -- once again, let me reiterate that the Democratic National Committee continues to challenge the Republican National Committee to jointly refuse taking soft money, and that is something -- that could happen tomorrow, that could happen today.
Q So you're saying it's accurate to report that the White House denies the President at one point last year embraced the idea of banning soft money?
MR. TOIV: -- specifically decided to do that, correct.
Q Weld nomination -- anything new?
MR. TOIV: Not that I'm aware of. The last I had heard, former Governor Weld was -- well, I don't want to say that, that was a long time ago. I don't know where he is now, so -- there's nothing new that I'm aware of.
Q What's the President doing today?
MR. TOIV: You all know we have a lid until 2:00 p.m. Right now, they're indoors due to the weather. If the weather should improve, that could change. But I don't know that the prospects of that are very good at the moment. The President is in relaxation mode -- reading, relaxing.
Q Is he going to play golf with Michael Jordan?
MR. TOIV: I haven't heard that he is, no.
Q Is Michael Jordan playing golf with Barbra Streisand?
Q And Princess Di caddies.
Q And is Chelsea going to return to Martha's Vineyard?
MR. TOIV: Yes, Chelsea will return. We don't have the exact date yet, but we're guessing sometime next week.
Q The reason for leaving?
MR. TOIV: She departed -- she has a whole list of friends who are leaving for college over the next couple of weeks, and she had planned to return for -- as I think some of you knew already, she had planned to return for part of this time. And so yesterday was the departure date, and she's going to see some friends off to school before she comes back.
Q What's Mrs. Clinton up to for the vacation? Is she working on another book?
MR. TOIV: On another book? I'll have to check on that one. But she's been relaxing around the house to a large degree. I'm going to check today to find out if there are any separate excursions she's been taking that I can tell you about.
Q Barry, the tobacco industry is threatening to walk away from the settlement if the White House keeps pressuring for more money. I guess this is the $50-billion credit. What's your reaction to that?
MR. TOIV: Again, as the White House has already said, while our negotiators eventually agreed to this provision, they did so reluctantly and did so only upon realizing that the settlement costs had not been established yet as far as, just like nothing is established in this agreement until it's all settled legislatively. And so it's our position that this provision in the budget legislation should not be allowed to actually reduce the cost to the industry of the settlement. And that is something that will be worked out in the legislative process ahead.
Q I'm a little confused, Barry, because Secretary Shalala had said that this was a sneak -- something that the industry snuck in and it was unfair and duplicitous, et cetera. And if you're saying that White House officials knew that it was in there, how is it a sneak attack?
MR. TOIV: I would have to correct that notion. It is something that the White House was aware. The only reason it's there is that this was, pure and simple, this was a position that was put upon, including in the bill the tobacco tax increase and the children's health program. Our negotiators accepted this with the knowledge that it could be dealt with as we deal with the legislation in the future, that may come to codify a tobacco settlement. And the way you can do that is to make sure that the cost of the settlement -- that the cost to the industry is not actually altered in the end by this provision.
Q One more tobacco question. The Liggett -- several attorneys general sent a letter to the White House yesterday asking that the Liggett Group be exempted from the most punitive parts of the settlement. Has that been received? Was the inclination of the White House towards that --
MR. TOIV: We're aware of the letter, and that is an issue - that's one of the issues that's being reviewed by the Reed-Shalala group, task force.
Q Do you know if they feel it's appropriate for Liggett to get any special dispensation at all?
MR. TOIV: That's an issue that's under review.
Q Are you able to say to what extent the President's been in touch with his attorney, Robert Bennett, about tomorrow's hearing in Little Rock on setting up a trial date for the Paula Jones --
MR. TOIV: I don't know. I don't know if he's been in touch with him about that.
There is no truth to the rumor, as we conclude, I assume, that the first event when we get back to the White House will be the announcement of a new deficit reduction plan to be led by OMB Director Frank Raines. Frank Raines will not be giving dance lessons in his spacious office in the OEOB, although we might consider it.
Q He is the Frank referred to in the --
MR. TOIV: I don't know, I only read the newspapers.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:00 A.M. EDT