THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:00 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I apologize for the delay. We did want to wait so that people would have an opportunity to hear the President address that enthusiastic audience at American University today. And we're glad that many of you were there, too, and the President has outlined his fall agenda and we're busily at work on it. And I'm stalling for time --and now you're all here.
Q How does he plan to pursue his demand that there be a hearing for Weld?
MR. MCCURRY: Vigorously.
Q No -- but does he have any options?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been working within the structure of the committee process and consistent with what the rules of the committee are, at least what we read them to be, working with the State Department folks who are helping the Governor and the White House team here. We have been consulting with the senators who are sympathetic to at least the argument that Governor Weld deserves a hearing and finding ways that we could, some one way or another, advance the prospects for the nomination.
I think what is at issue here is fundamental fairness, and I think the President has made a good case that it is rare, no matter how you look at it, rare for a presidential ambassadorial appointment not to at least get a hearing and a chance to state his or her case.
Q The President was talking about racial diversity and pointed out that in a few decades there would be no majority ethnic group in the United States, and he got great applause with that line. While he was making the point that it is inevitable, I'm questioning the applause and the fact that it sounded like it was written to be an applause line. Is the lack of a majority seem to be a value in itself?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that was more a celebration of the fact that our diversity and the diversity that America will represent in the 21st century will be one of the fundamental sources of our strength as we compete in a diverse global economy. It's a point the President has made often. He sees this as -- you know, it's interesting, our race initiative in the President's eyes in some respects is an element of our economic strategy because the diversity that is America and our ability to work together as one America as we compete in the world is both a symbol of our strength and a fact of our strength because it allows us to go into diverse markets in growing economies -- in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America and places where we see an expansion of democracy and economic opportunity -- and allows us to compete more effectively because we understand those cultures and we are ethnically diverse ourselves.
So I think the applause line -- at least we would take it to be a recognition that the President's fundamental argument here is a valid one.
Q Mike, if that's the case why this evening is there not an Africa American representative for the event at 5:00 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have been doing -- this is in connection with our race initiative. We've been doing a broad-based and numerous series of outreaches. You recall the President just recently met with I think several dozen representatives of the Black Leadership Forum. This is opportunity to hear some of those voices that represent the diversity of America. But it's a very inclusive process and will continue to be so.
Q The President called again for campaign finance reform during the speech and, yet, tonight he's going to be raising the very kind of money he deplores. Does the President consider that to be good leadership on the issue?
MR. MCCURRY: You've heard us -- we've asked and answered this question so many times here, and the answer remains the same -- there are a set of rules and we're not going to unilaterally disarm to the Republicans under those rules, and we'll continue to try to change the rules even as we try to compete effectively under the rules.
Q Sinn Fein signed up to the Mitchell principles today in regard to the peace talks in Belfast. We understand that a group of Irish deportees are about to get some good news this afternoon. Is this something that the administration is placing in front of Sinn Fein to say thank you for signing up to the Mitchell principles?
MR. MCCURRY: No, this is something that more properly the Attorney General will have to address. But I suspect she will, if not -- she probably was scheduled to do so this hour. I'll leave the rationale to her, but we certainly -- she certainly took into account the recommendation of the Secretary of State that the renewal of the Belfast all-party talks with the very significant action today that Sinn Fein had embraced the Mitchell principles was something that should be accounted for as these cases were considered. But I think it would be more appropriate now for the Attorney General to address that.
We, of course, welcome the decision of Sinn Fein to embrace those principles which has led the way for their inclusion in the all-party talks, and it's important now for the parties to take advantage of that opportunity. But we also respect the work that has been done by Unionist elements to continue to press upon their constituencies the importance of the cease-fire and holding the cease-fire. And again we would say that the unequivocal permanent nature of this cease-fire is something that we think is important and we think has been advanced in the decision by Sinn Fein today.
Q On the environment, today the President said that through certain changes in our behavior we could cut emissions of certain types of gases 20 percent without any cost over the next couple of years. What was he referring to?
MR. MCCURRY: He was -- if you look back at the testimony that Janet Yellen gave up on Capitol Hill, late July maybe, some of the arguments that she made there, we have to look for the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And she had some estimations, as I recall in her testimony. I'll go back and look at that, or else just check and see with the President if he had anything more specific than that in mind. But I think it was really a reference to the testimony the Chairman of the CEA has already given.
Q Mike, the Senate Government Affairs Committee released some new documents today, and among them was a CIA memo from October 1995, saying the NSC had put Roger Tamraz on a "watch list," to have no access to senior White House officials, including the President and the Vice President. And yet, by our calculations at least four times after that he was here at the White House and twice spoke with the President. Have you been able to ascertain more than you have before how something like this happened?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't myself, but I believe -- I'll check with Mr. Davis in the Counsel's Office -- I believe that they have addressed that question in that degree of specificity in the past.
Q Well, Mike, can you answer -- you've sort of taken a position on this before --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I'm not familiar enough with it.
Q -- Olympic Games for -- how President Clinton reacted, any comment?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, obviously, congratulates the people of Greece and specifically the people of Athens. It would be very appropriate for the Olympic Games in the first games of the next millennium to return to where they originated so many millenniums ago.
Q -- of Cyprus -- United States and it was reported extensively that the President is going to meet President Clinton. Do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that he is going to be here on a private visit. Of course, it's appropriate for a significant prelate to conduct private travel in the United States and meet with religious community leaders, which I believe is his itinerary. I'm not aware of any official visits with any government officials that are planned at this point.
Q Don Fowler said today that Herald Ickes effectively ran the fundraising -- the Democratic Party's fundraising operation from the White House. I wonder what your reaction to that is.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any particular reaction. I think he's still testifying and we ought to let senators, if they have questions about that, ask the witness questions.
Q In general, is it proper for a Deputy White House Chief of Staff to be such a hands-on kind of operator in terms of what the Democratic Party is -- how the Democratic Party is raising money?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't imagine that when President George Bush ran for reelection himself that there was any less hands-on oversight and review of his political activities from Mr. Baker, others who were here. I think that that has been -- if you go back through White Houses that have been seeking reelection, I think it's been more the course than not that there's been significant review and oversight of the political activity of the incumbent President by certain people on the White House staff so designated.
Q Mike, the NAACP and the Urban League are both calling for the President right now to pull federal dollars from police departments across America that has had excessive police brutality instances reported. And the call came today, on the heels of -- from the state's attorney in Baltimore on the -- case. Is the President looking at doing that right now instead of waiting until he hears from the race advisory board at the end of the year, on their findings about all the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think that is the appropriate context in which that issue can be reviewed, and the degree to which there's federal funding that goes to individual jurisdictions around the country, that would really be more properly a matter for Justice Department to tell you how they dispense those funds, what factors and criteria and whether or not they can take that into account.
I think there's a general, larger issue there which the President has talked to some leaders in the Africa American community about in the past, and that is a sense, particularly in that community, that there has been some more measurable, quantifiable instance of police brutality. And, of course, that's a subject of concern and should properly be addressed to see if that is, in fact, the case and, if so, what needs to be done.
Q A follow up. Kweisi Mfume did say that it's happening right now and that waiting until the end of the year is not good enough. He wants action now.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can well understand his concern, and I think the President would share some sense of urgency that it needs to be examined. And if anything needs to be done prior to the end of the year, of course, the President would consider those kinds of recommendations. But I think fact-gathering is what needs to happen first.
Q Mike, in his speech today, the President, talking about McCain-Feingold, outlined a strategy of outing members of Congress who don't support it. How is that going to be effected?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think what he was referring to, in the past it's been easy because the measures haven't advanced to the floor or haven't had consideration, that individual members could be generally in favor of reform, but when a specific measure was pending, their opinions didn't necessarily get recorded. I think that we have what is, everyone would attest, the best bipartisan vehicle for campaign finance reform that has been available to Congress in years and years and years, and it's time for individual members of Congress, and the Senate in particular, to be recorded yea or nay on that measure.
Q Are you talking about an affirmative, aggressive campaign by the White House to embarrass members who don't vote for it by, I don't know, publishing their names or --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President believes, given the level of public interest in this issue and the necessity of changing campaign finance rules, that that will happen in the natural course of business if the Senate, in fact, gets on with the business that Senator McCain and Feingold intend to pursue, which is to bring the measure to the floor.
Q Mike, let me follow up on a couple of these hearing questions. Wolf's question about Ickes, are you saying, if I understand your answer correctly, we don't deny that he essentially ran the DNC, but rather that's the status quo, that's what everybody does?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not going to go back and review testimony that individuals have given. I was making the general point here that it has long been a practice at White Houses in which an incumbent President is seeking reelection for there to be a high degree of political activity by some of the President's aides. There is nothing that is wrong about that and there is nothing that is, in fact, unusual about that if you look back at recent campaigns.
Q Okay. Let me follow up on Tamraz if I could. Without the specific question that I asked earlier, how does he, a wanted man, make his way into the White House to meet with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: We have reviewed that matter and White House Counsel is available, has reviewed that matter, and I don't have anything new to add to that subject.
Q Mike, today, in discussing the coming appointment of the bipartisan Medicare Commission, the President seemed to suggest that he would wait until that commission finishes its business in early '99 before then proceeding to a similar mechanism for Social Security review, the long-term solvency of Social Security. Is that the intent that this is going to be sequential, or might Social Security review kick in before --
MR. MCCURRY: I did not hear him suggest that, nor do I believe that his intent.
Q So you still expect an earlier start on Social Security review than the end of the Medicare thing?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has made it clear he intends to pursue that vigorously and pursue it soon.
Q Well, let me just ask you, without regard to what he had said today. Is there even a general timetable planned that the White House as to when the President will get cracking on long-term Social Security solvency?
MR. MCCURRY: In some respects he already is. That issue is being examined by the National Economic Council Director, Gene Sperling, already. And how you structure an approach to that issue is something he's been working actively on. We have not formally consulted with Congress on a specific plan of action, but I suspect we will do that in the course of coming months because the President does see that a fundamental issue that ought to be addressed early and -- perhaps later this year, perhaps early next year, but certainly in the course of the coming six months or so. But not necessarily reaching an definitive conclusion, but at least moving into some bipartisan process that would begin to tackle the question of how specifically do you deal with the long-term liquidity problems in the Social Security Trust Fund as you look ahead well into the next century.
Obviously, we're dealing with the Medicare issue, and the implementation of some of the things connected to balanced budget agreement that are important for the short-term, shortfall in the Medicare Trust Fund have to be a somewhat higher priority. And that's the reasons for the commission and the appointment of members. But I think those -- while the issues are different and the structural ways that you could deal with those trust fund shortfalls are different, there are good reasons to look at those issues as part of the common -- there are problems with the common denominator, which is the geodemographic changes that occur as you look into the next century.
Q Can I just ask you with regard to selection of members for the Medicare Commission, is the White House actively looking at perspective candidates? Has that begun?
MR. MCCURRY: We are, but I would not suggest we were anywhere near the final stage of the settlement. I have not heard that that's the case. Does the peanut gallery have any thoughts on that? Early in the consideration.
Q On the Medicare Commission, it's been criticized by some analysts that the timing on that, coming out in March of '99, would be prior to a few other commissions that also need to make reports dealing with perspective payments, and that you really couldn't come forward with practical recommendations until these other commissions report. Do you know the timing on these other two commissions?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't even know what the other two commissions are.
Q -- I don't recall the other --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what those other commissions are, but I haven't heard anyone suggest -- I haven't heard that there's any fratricide effect on the recommendations coming from various commissions. You may want to call folks up at the NAC and see if they've got anything further on that.
Q Mike, when does the White House expect recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board on the new airbag standards?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. I don't know offhand.
Q It's said to be imminent. Do you have any --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything about it, but I can check on it.
Q The President says that Congress should pass sweeping legislation that would reduce youth smoking. Does that mean -- was he indicating that he's going to embrace at least some form of tobacco settlement?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he was referring more specifically to his strong desire to see us move forward on the public health objectives that we have articulated. Now, that could take a couple different forms. Part of that is related to what the FDA's jurisdiction should be. That's clearly going to be an issue in one fashion or another. It could come up in different contexts either as part of a proposed global settlement or perhaps as an issue that arises during the appropriations process. But it clearly will be something that will be affected one way or another by the legislative process.
Q But he said sweeping legislation should be passed. I mean, what else could that refer to other than --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's hard to imagine that it would refer to much of anything else.
Q So there's nothing -- no new legislation --
MR. MCCURRY: We have not proposed any new legislation. But certainly our view of that, of the settlement and how it would be structured is something that the President has clearly been giving some thought to.
Q But he expects it to happen in the next three months, though?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it depends on who you're talking to on Capitol Hill.
Q When the President does his fast track speech tomorrow, will there be legislation going up to the Hill tomorrow as well --
MR. MCCURRY: I know the President's economic advisors are working hard to make it so. What they've been doing is consulting with a very wide-ranging group of members of Congress -- it was reported to me maybe in even excess of 100 people that we've talked to on the Hill. Now, necessarily, they are trying to factor a lot of the feedback that they've gotten into the preparation of legislative language and that process is underway and could conceivably be complete by tomorrow but, if not, shortly thereafter because we clearly need to move the legislative vehicle quickly as we think of the shortening timetable that's available in the fall. So, obviously soon, if not tomorrow.
Q What is the delay then? Why has it taken so long?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not been a delay, it's been that we are -- with Congress back in town, we've taken the opportunity to really work through some very specific, in some cases very sort of complex language-related issues that go into the legislation we would seek, and we need to factor that in. Congress has only been back a week. We've had people up on the Hill in the course of the past week in there factoring the discussions we've had into some of the preparation of legislative language.
Q But fast track has been around for years and years. What is more complex about this go-round?
MR. MCCURRY: There are some judgment calls you have to make on how you address certain specific issues, and the viewpoints of individual members and how you think of getting 50 percent in both the House and the Senate affects the way you would make some decisions on how you draft the language. You're looking for a majority, and how you put it together is complex. I agree that the issues have been around for a while.
Q To dramatically change the subject, sealed court documents cited by The Washington Times today say that former chef Pierre Chambrin -- forgive my French -- was fired because --
MR. MCCURRY: We would forgive it.
Q -- complains that he was fired because he was French born and overweight instead of the Clintons didn't like his recipes. He was also given $37,000 in severance not to talk about it.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- I can't comment on this matter for the exact reason you cited, that it was sealed court documents in litigation underway. And that process will have to under --
Q It's still under litigation?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, which, I think, why I we are reading about it these days.
Q What about the assistant chef, Sean Haddon, who says that he was fired after filing an EEOC complaint?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on something that's currently pending in litigation. And with respect to both of those personnel matters, the White House has spoken on it before -- or addressed questions about it before.
Q On what does the President base his oft repeated statement that the whole diversity of the country is going to change in a generation? I mean, is that a special study that he made --
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's been -- it's widely reported by demographic experts and been monitored and chronicled by the Census Bureau, among others. I mean, that's a fact. It is changing and the predictions of the experts with respect to California are pretty clear. The exact point at which some of the status of "a majority population" changes is in some dispute, but the Census Bureau has got a lot of interesting data on when the -- if you measure the trends, when the increase or decrease of certain ethnic populations will constitute more than a majority of what has been historically a majority white race in the country.
Q How did the President plan to pay for his legal defense in the Jones case with State Farm's withdrawal and -- apparently going to follow suit?
MR. MCCURRY: Specifically, I don't know, but he's indicated in the past that he expects to be able to earn a living when he's no longer President, and he could obviously anticipate paying off those bill with the income that he will no doubt earn.
Q So he could let the bill linger for a few years and then pay them back?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's between him and his attorneys. But he has indicated in the past a determination to pay off those bill if they still exist at the time he's no longer President, and earning a living doing whatever he decides to do.
Q Is he concerned or upset that the insurance companies are bailing out?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not talked to him about it and don't know what his reaction is.
Q Mike, the fired chef got a $37,000 severance payment, I guess is what you would call it. Is there precedent for that? Is that typical around here when people are asked to leave, that they get such high pay-offs?
MR. MCCURRY: It depends on the circumstances. People sometimes accumulate -- particularly long-term employees who have been around in many White Houses accumulate --
Q This wasn't vacation or anything like that.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know what the circumstances are, but that has -- I mean, that typically is a case where people accumulate vacation time or they are given extra time to search for new job opportunities as an act of courtesy. I don't know the circumstances in this case, nor would I address it given that it's under litigation.
Q Is there a special fund for that?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no -- do not know.
Q And do you know what budget it might come out of?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't know, and we'll have to look into that for you if you're interested.
Q The President's speech today had very powerful rhetoric and had a long reach on several times, but --
MR. MCCURRY: Is that a review or a question? (Laughter.)
Q Well, in this room that reach seems to have shrunk a bit. He talked about sweeping legislation, which you explain is maybe FDA regulations or -- and on his talking about people voting against McCain-Feingold not being able to hide, you're describing that as pretty much the process as usual. He talked about we could cut the environmental emissions now without a cost, and you say that that's a statistic that was part of an argument that came up on the Hill.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you for your compliment. I intended to be far less dramatic and powerful than the President.
Q Is this a reality check here?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. The President will pursue those, each and every one of those items in the fashion that he said, but I'm trying to give you some substantive detail on how he will do that.
Q Mike, the President continues to have several items on his agenda when he goes around -- will he soon talk to mainstream America just on diversity issue, just on the race issue anytime soon? Because he continues to throw that in, peppering that with all the other issues.
MR. MCCURRY: I felt like that was a fairly mainstream audience today and, of course, it was something he felt that he needed to address there. But the answer is, yes, he will continue to address that in a variety of settings, a variety of fashions.
Q Will he target just that one audience with that one topic?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out; entirely possible.
Q Mike, back on Weld for just a second. If at the end of the day, Senator Helms refuses a hearing, is that acceptable to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Is there any feeling in the White House that the Vice President's image as a straight shooter has been hurt by these hearings?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Should we call an end to this? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Depends on how much longer you want to sit here extracting nothing in return. (Laughter.) But that's your choice, not mine. I get paid to be here and be the pinata and get whacked at. (Laughter.)
Q You also are paid to give answers.
MR. MCCURRY: I do that on occasion.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:45 P.M. EDT