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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 8, 1997
                             PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                                MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House daily briefing, and gosh, is it great to say that after three weeks. Forgive me if I'm a little out of practice. We haven't been in these newly refurbished quarters for very long, and you all look very smart, sitting there in those au tres elegant chairs. (Laughter.) And can you tell me what 14th Street establishment they found that design? (Laughter.)

Q Somewhere there's a saloon without drapes. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Thank you, General Services Administration, for that pattern. That's an elegant pattern. It looks very nice. You all look very good sitting in those chairs.

Q Feeling fine.

Q So do you. You look great.

MR. MCCURRY: Looking good, feeling good. Love that. We all are, including our President, who was thankful that you gave him such a blissful three-week vacation.

Q We gave him, huh?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, you did.

Q We paid for his vacation?

MR. MCCURRY: No, you just gave him some time off without pestering him too much.

Q Was he sorry to be back?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he was ready to get back. According to Mr. Lockhart, who came back with him yesterday, he was ready to go.

Q Was he happy that Paula Jones' lawyers have pulled out -- (laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Who's that? (Laughter.) I'm not certain that he even knows about that.

Q Really? Wouldn't he be interested?

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett, his attorney, has been traveling, although one of his associates has been available to all of you and to whom I will refer any questions you'd have on that matter.

Q You don't want to have any official comment from the White House on this very important development?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not a matter we have, to my knowledge, ever routinely commented about officially, and not a way to kind of break into things to start doing it now.

Q Well, I would think he'd be interested, frankly.

MR. MCCURRY: He may or may not know about it. I'm not sure. I just don't know if he's had any contact with the law office.

Q Was there any settlement that the President signed off on?

MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to ask his attorneys. I don't know.

Q Mike, what are the President's thoughts on Mobutu's death?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the United States government obviously is not entirely surprised by the news of Mr. Mobutu's death. He has been seriously ill with prostate cancer for some time. It's been well-known, I think, that during a period of superpower rivalry in the era of the Cold War, the United States worked closely with President Mobutu. But over the years, and especially in the years since then, as history has transformed that continent and democracy has increasingly emerged, those leaders that have fallen short and been left behind in history have increasingly not been as active in working with the United States government.

So his death has been noted in the region. I don't know -- there is not much else beyond that the United States government would say about it.

Q Mike, what does the White House expect from Albright's trip to the Middle East?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President expects the Secretary of State, whom he will see later today to review her trip that begins tomorrow, to continue the painstaking process of building confidence between parties that currently don't have much confidence between them. That's hard work and she will explore that. But other elements of her trip will touch on all the other aspects of the Middle East peace process. And it's important that there, in the view of the United States, cannot be any comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the region without the involvement of all parties, so that suggests the broader itinerary that the Secretary of State will pursue. The President is confident that she and the Middle East peace team that works for him is in a position to do the best they can to advance the prospects of dialogue between the parties.

Q Two follow-ups. Do you have any thoughts on the possibility of Israel withdrawing from Lebanon?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, our view is that there cannot be a comprehensive, just, lasting peace in the region without progress on the Lebanese track. But there's currently an internal debate underway in Israel on that question and we are mindful of the fact that decisions of that nature have to made respecting the independent and internal domestic debate that will reflect the wisdom on the choices that are available.

Q One more on Arafat. Have you seen any signs that he is now working to reduce terrorism in the past few days?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've always seen signs that he has publicly and privately worked to reduce terrorism and he has said so. The question is, is there more of a concrete nature that we can do to limit the security risks that the people of Israel and the people of the Palestinian community face as a result of the terrorists. And we'll certainly impress upon him the need for concrete, specific actions that can help limit the prospects of terror.

Q Will you be pressing anything upon Netanyahu in terms of actions that he can take -- concrete actions he can take also to help build confidence? And what will those be, if you can share --

MR. MCCURRY: There will be range of things that I'm not going to go beyond the very good background session that's already occurred at the State Department by someone who's in the best possible position.

Q Where is that?

MR. MCCURRY: That's already occurred at the State Department.

Q Mike, the answer to the question is, yes, that Netanyahu will also feel some pressure?

MR. MCCURRY: This is not about pressuring the parties. We have always discovered in this process that the United States doesn't enter into the equation as someone who pressures. We get in the process in a way that helps people understand what their commitments have been and need to be in order for the process to move forward.

That doesn't -- not to say that sometimes the discussions are not candid, sometimes the discussions are not robust, but, at the same time, it's not wise for someone attempting to facilitate a dialogue to play the role of the heavy hand.

Q It's not a heavy hand. It's benign neglect that the President has indulged in all summer in terms of the Middle East --

MR. MCCURRY: That just -- couldn't possibly be anything further from the truth.

Q -- and surely the U.S. does not support the occupation of another country like Lebanon.

MR. MCCURRY: Couldn't be anything -- well, our position with respect to the disposition of parties in Lebanon is well-known, has not changed. But it could not be farther from the truth to say that the President has not been actively involved in this process over the course of the last weeks.

Q Is the Vice President considering making a voluntary appearance before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anyone speaking on his behalf suggest so.

Q Has there been any White House decision about representation at Mother Teresa's funeral?

MR. MCCURRY: In a very short while, the White House will formally announce that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation to the funeral services in Calcutta. And we'll have additional information about the delegation at that time.

Q Is she taking Gore's job away from him?

Q When does she leave?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure, but they will tell you more about the itinerary as it's formally developed.

Q Saturday in Calcutta?

Q What about Mobutu's funeral? (Laughter.)

Q Mike, did the President have a meeting on fast track authority this morning, and where does that stand? Is the legislative package ready?

MR. MCCURRY: He may have had some meetings internally with people here just to get a report back on some of the extensive consultation that's been underway. The Chief of Staff and Mr. Hilley have been up on the Hill to meet today with the Senate Majority Leader. They plan to meet with the Speaker tomorrow. They met with Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Daschle last week, and the President will get updated on those conversations that certainly are about the fall agenda. But I think you will hear much more from the President tomorrow as he talks about the work that lies ahead in the remaining weeks that the Congress will be in session, and then the work that he intends to pursue for the balance of the year.

Q Mike, is President Clinton going to intervene in trying to push the Weld nomination forward?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, in a sense we already have. The White House has, the President has in one or two respects authorized intervention on his behalf. I wouldn't be surprised if the President in a public way takes a role in the nomination fight as well.

Q Mike, if Lugar gets -- it seems he has a majority to force at least a meeting of the committee. Do you think it's appropriate that Weld appear at such a meeting, obviously over Helms' objections?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's appropriate for the Governor to have the fair hearing that he deserves and we are working hard to build support on both sides of the aisle so that the Senate can carry out its constitutional advice and consent function.

Q Regardless of who calls the meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: The meeting -- there are procedures available in the Senate by which a meeting can be held, and one way or another, Governor Weld's nomination deserves to be heard.

Q The perception of Weld is that you're leaving him hanging and swinging in the wind. Publicly, the President has not really made a big fight on this score. I mean, doesn't he have to take on Helms frontally and publicly to really --

MR. MCCURRY: The last three weeks the President has not been in a position to take on much publicly --

Q No, I know that, but --

MR. MCCURRY: -- but the President is fully committed to this nomination. We have been fighting hard, as Governor Weld indicated yesterday. He believes the White House and the President have been fully supportive of his quest for a nomination and I just indicated to you the President and the White House will be directly involved in the fight.

Q Mike, in truth, it's been months now that you've been saying the President is about to do something publicly vis a vis Weld, and he hasn't done anything yet.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we took the opportunity over the recess to do some things quietly and behind the scenes that we thought might help advance the prospects of this nomination, and it didn't work so we're in a position now where we will be able to do some things publicly.

Q So we should expect the President publicly to make a statement?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the White House is going to be very actively engaged with the Governor in making the case for his nomination.

Q With the exception of Lani Guinier's 24 hours before her nomination was pulled, has this administration ever allowed a nominee to go on television and do public interviews in advance of confirmation hearings?

MR. MCCURRY: I think as a practical matter there have been some nominations that have gone on in that fashion and -- that's right, the Henry Foster nomination for Surgeon General was handled in that way.

Q Mike, is it too little, too late? I mean, Friday, Lawton said he believes that the nomination is dead.

MR. MCCURRY: I think that was wishful thinking on the Majority Leader's part. It's not and he knows it. And he knows there's substantial support within his caucus for the nomination. And I expect he would -- can easily understand he would like to see the problem go away, but it's not going to go away and we are going to fight for the nomination and the Governor's going to have a chance to make his case as he should. And then senators can decide, given their constitutional role, whether he should be confirmed or not.

Q You say it the Governor going to make his case?

Q On that same vein, while you were away there are groups in this town that are sharpening their swords to go against Bill Lee for assistant attorney general for civil rights. Are you ready for that battle as well, and what are you doing?

MR. MCCURRY: That's news to me. I've not heard of any organized opposition to the nomination. But it's an excellent one and the administration, and the President and the White House will press hard for his confirmation.

Q On the tobacco settlement, there's an amendment to the labor HHS bill that would eliminate the $50 billion credit agreed to in the balanced budget deal. What is the administration's view of trying to offset by repealing that?

MR. MCCURRY: We have expressed a lot of sympathy for the sponsors of that amendment. We've indicated that we don't anticipate that provision in the balanced budget agreement to reduce the overall costs that the industry would be expected to contribute to any overall settlement. At the same time, we have a much more comprehensive view of issues related to the proposed tobacco settlement and I expect the President will turn his attention to that later in the week and early next week and have more to say about it at that time.

Q Mike, why the delay in the tobacco settlement specifics?

MR. MCCURRY: No delay. It's just the President is back in town; we'll have a chance to review with him some of the issues that have arisen. There have been some presentations made by various parties late in the process and we will assess those. And most importantly, we are consulting on Capitol Hill; now we want to take into account some of the views of key members of Congress who would likely be a part of the debate as this legislation begins to move to Congress and has debate occurs there, maybe later this year, maybe early next year.

Q Mike, with that debate likely next year, what risks or what positives could come out of letting it linger into a '98 election year as opposed to trying to deal with it this year?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what the -- that would be assessed by individual members of Congress who would be dealing with it in whatever political environment they face. I can't assess 525 --

Q Is the President concerned that the deal could fall apart with a longer time line?


Q Mike, the President was pushing for national testing at the same time a report is out today saying that three-fourths of school kids have had some sort of contact with using or dealing with drugs. Does the President consider that to be a crisis number and how does the administration want to take on that sort of problem?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has assessed drug use by young Americans in the formal way that the government has reported on drug use, most recently in the report done by I believe by the Department of Health and Human Services. And, as the President said at that time and will continue to say, it remains a very high priority of his and of the administration and of the administration's comprehensive antidrug strategy to get at the root cause of those numbers and see a real reduction in drug use by young people. And a great deal of effort by the President, by the administration, has been aimed towards that end.

Q Is that a number you find shocking?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to -- I'm not familiar with the exact parameters of that report, but we have reported ourselves on drug use among young Americans. As you know, the most recent assessment is that it is somewhat in decline for certain categories of drugs and that's the government's best thinking on what the trends are concerning drug use by young people.

Q Mike, on the Mother Teresa delegation, was there any consideration given to the President leading the delegation?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. I think the First Lady, who has had an association with Mother Teresa, who appeared with her in June of 1995 when the Mother Teresa Home was dedicated here in the District of Columbia -- it was almost a natural choice and I'm not aware that the President considered representing the country in that fashion. I think the First Lady was almost a natural choice.

Q Who else is on the delegation?

MR. MCCURRY: They're developing it now, which is why I'm not formally unveiling it now.

Q Mike, back to the $50 billion on tobacco -- are you saying that the White House does or does not want to see that repealed? I didn't hear what you said.

MR. MCCURRY: I said we have been very sympathetic with the idea that ought to be addressed in the fashion the amendment would address it.

Q Right, but I'm not sure what that means.

MR. MCCURRY: It means that we, as we've said in the past, don't believe that that money is going to end up defraying any of the liability the industry may believe it would have under a proposed settlement. But the total dollar number of what the industry's costs are going to be associated with this element is not something that we have addressed ourselves to publicly.

Q But by saying that, are you saying, hence it ought to come out, or are you saying, hence it can stay and doesn't matter?

MR. MCCURRY: As a practical matter, if it stays in it won't reduce what their future costs are. But as a policy matter, we'd prefer to see it come out.

Q And how can you ensure that? I mean, wouldn't this be a direct way of ensuring that?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be a lot of work associated with promulgating the settlement if and when we go that route that would be designed to have to assure that.

Q What is going to be the dynamic of travel on Secretary Albright's journey? And my question really is, is she going to stick to a set itinerary or is she going to be flexible to allow for developments that may keep her in the region, that may add countries to her schedule?

MR. MCCURRY: You need to ask her representatives that question. My own practical experience is that in the region you need to retain some flexibility as you go along to adjust for whatever you perceive the need to be for additional travel. But her itinerary should be properly addressed by the State Department, not by me.

Q The Wall Street Journal today reported that some administration officials were going to have a meeting about Japan economics. What is the reason for this special meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about it. I'll have to check.

Q Does the President have any view on this HDTV controversy? Does he want to see the broadcasters develop that?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him express an opinion on that.

Q Did the President finish reading all the books he carried to the vacation?

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Lockhart, did the President read all the books that we said he was going to read? Them, and some more, I think.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, them and many more.

MR. MCCURRY: Which duffel bag did he tend to in his reading?

MR. LOCKHART: It depends which part of the vacation. He leaned heavily towards the other one near the end --

MR. MCCURRY: I think late in the game he tended toward the mysterious and the novel -- (laughter) -- as opposed to the profound and the policy-oriented.

Q Mike, do you have an approximate date for the Clintons taking Chelsea to Stanford?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'd prefer not to publicly comment, but I think it's well-known what the schedule is out there, what the first day of classes are, when Parents' Day is. That's all available to you from the university.

Q Are they both going?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have word on what their plans are yet. I believe so. But you got that question -- I don't think we've addressed the question publicly. I imagine so, but I don't know for a fact.

Q How more active is the President going to be in the next few weeks with regard to supporting McCain-Feingold, trying to get a vote on the Senate floor?


Q In what way?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know.

Q Is it going to go beyond what he's done in the past, occasionally expressing his support for McCain-Feingold?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know when we've got plans.

Q Are you going to have fast track on Wednesday?

MR. MCCURRY: Likely, yes. Will I have a fast track? The President will advance the prospects for fast track authority, which would allow him to negotiate agreements that will continue to open up markets for the United States and continue to build a fundamental premise of our strong economy into the future. And he wants to make that case publicly and we'll say more about that on Wednesday.

Q If this Goodling amendment becomes enacted as part of the educational appropriations bill, will the President veto that bill?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not going to become law one way or another, but at the moment we're working quietly to try to fashion something that the President can sign. But he won't sign the unsignable.

Q Does that mean he'll veto it if it's part of the bill?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't use the V word, I think. Did I use the V word? No, I didn't use the V word.

Q Well, the staff has used the V word in their recommendation to him, right, in the statement of administration policy?

MR. MCCURRY: That's right, we have kind of like -- we're in this time of year now in which there are various gradients of veto threats. You've got senior advisor threats and Cabinet secretary threats -- and what's another good one? Advisors recommend. And then they got the press spokesman who will say he won't sign the unsignable. That's a good one. What else have we got? (Laughter.) And then there is the big gun.

Q What are you seeking in the way of a modification?

MR. MCCURRY: What the President outlined in his radio address I guess two Saturdays ago. It's pretty clear that he wants voluntary national testing developed in a bipartisan fashion. We think we can achieve that. We think it's important for Americans to have confidence that their schools can meet the high quality standards we need in the 21st century. And he thinks Americans will rally around to that cause. And those who don't support high quality national standards, tested so that we know whether we're meeting the standards that we set, will have to make the case why that's a bad idea.

Q He doesn't think the opposition is valid that minorities are at a disadvantage?

MR. MCCURRY: We think that you don't start by assuming failure, inability to meet standards; you start by setting high standards and figuring out the way to meet them. And we will work closely with minority communities to assure that that can be done.

Q On congressional legislation, anything new today on the proposed Department of Energy cuts and RIF-ing 2,000 people over there?

MR. MCCURRY: No, and I asked to check into that further, and I'll get some more information on that. That has come up here before, and I've asked for someone to report in to me about what the status is.

Q Now that the appropriations bills are going to start coming down, are you going to have the same process for the line item veto that you had in the reconciliation bills, where the bill first passes and then you review it? Or are you going to start identifying things ahead of the signing of the bill, and would say, if this is in here it's subject to the line item veto?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, by the statute, it has to be passed and signed into law before it's subject to the line item veto. But the negotiations that might occur with respect to the President's use of that authority can occur at any time.

Q Is he happy with The New York Times editorial supporting Castro?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President thinks there's a very strong case to be made for opening up markets overseas and for having the authority that's been available to Republican and Democratic presidents alike to negotiate those agreements and appreciates the support given from whatever source.

Q Does the President on fast track still want to at least a house vote before he goes to South America?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we just want to work hard to get it done, and obviously we're consulting a lot on the Hill to see what we might be able to get.

Q He doesn't have his own party with him on it.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not at all certain that that is true. There are some in the party who may not be with the President. We acknowledge that, but I think kind of like balancing the budget and others, I think at the end of the day we hope a majority of the Democratic Caucus is with the President's position in support of opening up markets that have been a fundamental source of the strength the American economy enjoys right now. And it would be hard pressed to find many Democrats that don't appreciate the circumstances we're in with the robust, strong economic performance we've had, and a central reason for that has been the ability to open up markets and to compete overseas.

Want some more sermons on that subject? I think not. Goodbye. It's nice being back. Welcome back everyone. Hope everyone's enjoying their new quarters.

END 1:35 P.M. EDT