THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:37 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Let us begin formally. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the White House, today's daily briefing. Let's start with a couple of housekeeping items. First, tomorrow morning the President and the Vice President will visit Mount Vernon, lovely Mount Vernon, to officially unveil some things related to the American Heritage Rivers program -- that's the President's subject tomorrow -- an appropriate setting to celebrate part of America's rich cultural and historical heritage, the lovely home of our first President.
The President, you'll recall, back at the State of the Union address, said that he was establishing a program that would allow the United States to designate up to 10 scenic rivers as heritage rivers, and the President will talk a little bit tomorrow about the process that will be used to do that.
Q Is the Potomac River one of them?
MR. MCCURRY: The Potomac River, to my knowledge, is not one that would be applying -- (laughter). The reason we are there is because, A, it's a river and a nice picture, and, B, the President for a long time was wanting to go to Mount Vernon. He has apparently never visited Mount Vernon.
MR. TOIV: We don't know if the local community --
MR. MCCURRY: We don't actually -- Barry makes a good point. He's already rolled me back and we're only one minute into the briefing. One of the things the President will stress tomorrow is that the desire to be designated a heritage river is a community-based process, and so it would be up to local authorities in presumably the states of Virginia and Maryland to examine the question of whether they wanted to apply. But we don't presume that the Potomac would be one of them.
Q What do you get?
Q Roughly what time? Would this be in the morning news cycle?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the problem is that it might very likely not happen, period, if it's raining, because we will not go down there if it's raining. And so the rain site is Room 450 in the Old EOB, which is -- (laughter.)
Q A river runs through it. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: A very scenic -- maybe we could kind of like bring some beautiful pictures of rivers in there. (Laughter.)
Q What does a community get when its river is so designated?
MR. MCCURRY: There is some federal assistance and some things that are done, but I'll leave that for the story tomorrow. I just hadn't looked back at that.
Q Could you take a second to define what a heritage river is?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll do all that tomorrow. It's part of what the President laid out and there are some things available, I think -- I think the National Park Service and Interior have the lead on this. I'm not certain of that. But we'll be doing more on that tomorrow.
A couple of other items: One, the congressional picnic that was to be tonight will be tomorrow night and the picnic that was to be on the South Lawn, due again to the rainy weather here in Washington, D.C., may be moved inside to the State Floor. So we're prepared to have a picnic on the State Floor -- we'll set up the little barbecues and do the hot dogs there on the State Floor and burn the place down just the way the British did. (Laughter.)
Q You mean if it rains tomorrow it will be on the State Floor?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. They're taking a chance on that there's a better weather report for tomorrow night and they might be able to do it outside, but they are making arrangements to move it indoors if they need to. And I think that they couldn't do that for tonight.
MR. TOIV: I think they're likely to do it indoors, actually.
MR. MCCURRY: Likely to do it indoors, Barry hints. Barry, he'd do a better job than I would anyhow.
I said for planning purposes earlier today that the President and the First Lady would take their daughter to college September 18th, and I say it now here so you can report that fact if you need to. Thursday, the 18th.
Q How long are they going to stay?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've got their own private family program for two days and the President will have some public events on Saturday, the 20th. We'll have an event somewhere in the San Francisco Bay area, most likely dealing with some of the priorities the President talked about yesterday -- presumably either fast track, education, maybe some combo platter. And they will return back late Saturday evening, flying overnight to New York, and spend the day in New York on Sunday. And the President, of course, will participate in the opening of the U.N. General Assembly session on Monday.
Q Any events on Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: He may be out and about, but my understanding is it will be private things. But there will be a need for a pool that day.
One more. This is -- I've told you this before, but I want to make sure that people who have been away over the holidays know that the Northwest Gate is going to be completely torn down and replaced with a new and improved Northwest Gate that will be larger, that will have more than one entry lane, but that will utilize the pin number access so that in the future you're going to have to remember what your pin numbers are and most of you probably forgot them.
The Northwest Gate will shut down operation at the end of the day tomorrow, Thursday, September 11, and beginning Friday morning, September 12, all the new visitors wishing to gain access to the complex on the north side will enter through the temporary trailer that you've seen nicely stashed out there on the North Lawn. Please note that during this time the press may continue to enter the complex through the Southwest Gate down at the other end of West Executive Avenue, and please remember that you're going to need your pin code, because even with the temporary trailer now, you're going to need your pin code. So call the Secret Service Pass Office if you do not know that number, and the press staff here can help you get in contact with the right person if you so need.
Q So then you go down West Executive and come across?
MR. MCCURRY: They built that little ladderway over and then you walk in and around here. We're all dealing with kind of the new flow of people and bodies and I'll have more things to say about that tomorrow.
Q What's the story on these medical records now that the --
MR. MCCURRY: It's not the story that's in The New York Times, near as I can tell. I've talked to the Department of Health and Human Services, and of course, Secretary Shalala will formally present the recommendations tomorrow. But one thing that will be clear is that the thrust of the recommendations will increase privacy rights for Americans. And with respect to access to medical records by law enforcement agencies or entities, there is no recommendation of any change in the status quo. The only thing that changes is about the way that law enforcement interact with medical records right now is that -- the one recommendation that will be likely be made by the Secretary tomorrow is that they will make it a crime to inappropriately disclose medical records. So there is no truth to The New York Times report that they're broadening access by law enforcement; in fact, they're not making any change at all.
Q What's the basis of this proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: The basis of this proposal is the requirement in the Kennedy-Kassebaum legislation passed last year that the United States government have a specific policy on protecting privacy rights with respect to medical records. And so the Department has been preparing these proposed regulations.
Q Mike, have you had a chance to see these documents that were released today suggesting that both the President and the Vice President may have been aware that the phone call solicitations involving the Vice President -- that some of that money would go to hard money as opposed to soft money?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not. That's news to me. I have not seen those.
Q Senator Ashcroft is promoting an idea to make the payroll taxes deductible, and saying this could be the tax cut for 1998. Does the White House have a view on this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that will be -- if and when there is a tax bill in the future, we will have many views and they will be expressed by the Treasury Department. I don't know we've got a view on that particular provision that's been stated yet.
Q And also the IRS Commissioner nomination -- what is the status?
MR. MCCURRY: I checked on that, and we've been working to encourage the Senate to have a hearing for Mr. Rossotti as quickly as possible. We hope we can work something out so it can be heard soon. Obviously, that is an agency that we need strong leadership, and the Secretary of the Treasury wants the commissioner in place as soon as possible, as does the President.
Q What more does the President plan to do on the Weld nomination in the next few days? You've got this hearing coming up on Friday; Helms is saying that the Weld nomination will not be a matter on the agenda.
MR. MCCURRY: We are monitoring very closely some of the efforts by people that believe Governor Weld deserves a hearing. We continue to do the work with the nominee that you would expect. We've been working with him as he makes the rounds as he meets individually and does consultations with members of the Senate. And we will continue to look and seek opportunities to make the case publicly, the President and others in the administration as well, and also Governor Weld, of course.
But, for the moment, we await the outcome of whatever the meeting is that will happen on Friday. We hope it will turn into the fair hearing that Governor Weld deserves.
Q Are you recommending that Weld be there?
MR. MCCURRY: We're recommending that the nominee do what is necessary to advance his cause and to respect the constitutional role of the Senate to grant advice and consent. And he is available to appear at a hearing and wants to appear at a hearing, but at this point we'll have to know whether, in fact, Friday's meeting will be the hearing that he deserves.
Q So you don't know whether he'll go or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it depends on whether or not there's an opportunity for that to be the hearing that Governor Weld surely deserves.
Q But is that something you won't know, though, until the meeting opens?
MR. MCCURRY: Or until its gavel close. We'll wait and see.
Q Is the President trying to contact Helms at all personally?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had through appropriate channels some private conversations with Chairman Helms and we've elected to keep those conversations private, respecting his prerogatives as Chairman. But sometimes when things can't work out quietly, you need to do them a little more vigorously and a little more publicly. And that's the position we're clearly in now.
Q Mike, is there a precedent of if the committee won't hold a hearing of going to the full Senate --
MR. MCCURRY: It is surely rare -- according to Mr. Thiessen on the Chairman's committee staff, it is not unprecedented, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of a case in which major ambassadorial nomination by the President who has constitutional duties with respect to foreign policy has not been given the courtesy of a hearing on his nomination. And I can't recall an instance when the Senate has not recognized its specific constitutional responsibilities with respect to ambassadorial nominations. But Mr. Thiessen is a very smart young fellow and he can probably give you a few.
Q Just to clarify Helen's question, are you saying, no, the President has not spoken to Helms, or, yes, he has?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I've said that we've had some appropriate high-level, direct from the President through an emissary discussions.
Q So the President did not speak to Helms, but someone else at his behest did?
MR. MCCURRY: That's, yes, what I tried to say. (Laughter.) As usual, you said it better.
Q Could you elaborate on the thinking that went into the decision not to make the Weld appointment a recess appointment?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has the prerogative to make a recess appointment. We have to work with the Senate and work with the leadership in the Senate and work with committee chairs appropriately. And while we certainly explored that idea, we had also assured the Majority Leader that we would acknowledge the effort he has made to move some of our nominations in other areas and would not pursue a recess appointment that would be something objectionable to him.
We did explore the idea, and we explored the idea with Chairman Helms. I'll leave it to both of those gentlemen to comment on their views of that, but clearly the President's desire is to have an ambassador in place in Mexico at a time in which Mexico is undergoing significant extraordinary political change itself, at a time when Mexico is learning to cope with the reality of divided government. And among other reasons, the President felt it was wise to send Governor Weld, a Republican, to Mexico to send the signal that the United States government understands and deals effectively with a divided government itself. But I guess that proposition is being tested somewhat.
Q What is Helms afraid of?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no -- I cannot speak for Chairman Helms and why he would be afraid to bring what is obviously a highly qualified nominee before his committee for a hearing. You'll have to ask him.
Q Mike, does the White House see conflict at all concerning Linda Chavez-Thompson, a member of the race advisory board -- she was one of the very vocal members across the street earlier opposing fast track.
MR. MCCURRY: No, we do not have any objection to her participating in that. She has strong views on that issue. Her professional work has been in the area of worker rights, and so we fully respect ability to express her opinion and she clearly is someone who knows how to forcefully articulate her views, which is why the President is delighted that she continues to work effectively on the advisory board.
Q Following up, does she have the President's ear on that matter possibly, on fast track?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that she has had, but she would have an opportunity to have it, and the President respects her views, as we respect the views of many of those who take issue with the President's strong support for free trade. But the President is adamant and you will hear him in a short while make the case that opening up markets abroad is a way to help working people in the United States of America. If we don't engage in free trade and negotiate the kinds of agreements that will open market access for U.S. workers, then our workers will be left behind in the dust as the workers in other of our trading competitors, here in this hemisphere and in Europe and elsewhere, take advantage of market opportunities in places like Latin America. And we don't want our workers left behind. That's the case the President will make shortly.
Q Mike, you're likely to get a majority of Republicans supporting you on the fast track legislative authority. Do you think you'll get a majority of Democrats in the House and in the Senate supporting it?
MR. MCCURRY: We will work as hard as we can to try to achieve that. That will obviously be very difficult. I think you know the numbers as well as we do. But we believe in making the case strongly and we believe it strongly because free and open trade and expanding trade opportunities for our country is a central element of the strong economic performance that we see day in and day out now. And that will be true, it will continue to be true, it will be a fact of life for us in the 21st century. And the President will make the case that we need that authority to continue to open markets so that we can enjoy some of the benefits we already see in our economy of having -- growing, global commerce.
Q Mike, you say in the long run it will help American workers, but what is going to fill the gap between now and the long run?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the engine of job creation in the U.S. economy. We've created 13 million jobs in this economy since 1993 and they are disproportionately in higher wage-paying sectors of the economy, particularly in manufacturing. So for jobs that are lost in industries that are not competing because we don't have comparative advantage there are jobs being created elsewhere. Now there's, admittedly, transition periods where people have to learn and earn new skills, but recall that we are helping provide incentives for people gaining those types of skills through the HOPE Scholarship, through many of the things that we're now doing to give workers more training opportunities. It's an economy in transition, but it's a growing economy, providing millions of new jobs and millions of new earning opportunities for workers.
Q Does the White House believe that the private studies that indicate NAFTA has really led to the creation of just a few thousand jobs are flat-out wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We acknowledge that a lot of experts have looked at the question and that the marginal economic impact of NAFTA was maybe not as great as some said it would be, either negatively or positively, during the NAFTA debate. But, at the same time, the period of study included the period in which the Mexican economy underwent a significant currency crisis that required direct action by the United States and other members of the international lending community. And given that there was job creation net and growing prospects of increasing job creation as a result of expanded trade with Mexico, that's a positive result given the reality of what the Mexican economy experienced.
Q You mentioned before that you're probably depending on the Republicans to carry fast track through the Congress. Given that, aren't you going to have to give up on special provisions to protect labor and environmental issues?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will pursue free and open trade agreements consistent with his long-felt principles that workers' rights have to be protected and the environment on our planet has to be protected. Further questions, I think, by the way, as you all know, are going to be more beneficially directed on your behalf to the briefers that will be here shortly. Let's move on to other subjects.
Q Another one on Weld. If there's no action by the Congress recesses for the holidays, will the President look again at the issue of recess appointments?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that.
Q On climate change, the President said yesterday the U.S. could cut emissions 20 percent tomorrow at no cost, using available technology. Can you expand on that? Twenty percent by when, from what baseline?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm looking at that -- I can't. I just asked the President a short while ago, I said, do you recall specifically where you saw that. I thought it was in, perhaps, a book he read over the holidays. It was not. So Todd Stern, you should be alert to the fact that it was in something he thinks he read in a memo from somewhere in our government. I think I just put Todd on alert. He'd better get the answer.
Q Does this signal, perhaps, that he is going to shoot for that level of reduction?
MR. MCCURRY: No. It says -- he was making an observation, and I think this consistent with testimony that CAA Chairman Janet Yellen gave that there are things that we can sensibly do that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are less costly net term for our economy, and that you can achieve some significant reductions by doing things that have less cost associated with them. And I think the President -- obviously, we want to pursue sensible, common sense, cost-efficient ways of reducing greenhouse gases, as the President has said and as Chairman Yellen has said.
Q Is he still considering going to Kyoto for the signing of the treaty?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard that, and I think that right now we're working hard to see what kind of progress we can make just in negotiations themselves. The current level of representation, I believe, is the under secretary level over at State.
Q If the President thinks that U.S. can achieve that, though, at no cost, why not do it?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think that the President does believe there are going to have to be changes in our economy that will reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and reduce other sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and that will be true over time and there are going to be ways to do it. But as Chairman Yellen has said, we've got to find smart ways of doing it.
Q The 20 percent reference wasn't in the text, that he adlibbed that part?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think I saw it in the text.
Q Do you think it was a misstatement?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Oh, no.
Q So you stand by that that can be achieved?
MR. MCCURRY: I stand by it as long as I can prove it true, and we're trying to figure out where it came from now. He doesn't specifically remember. He thinks he read it in a memo. Do you know? Let's not wing an answer. Let's get it right.
Q Is climate change part of tomorrow's speech as well as the rivers business?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I have heard, but he's on a roll on this subject, so he might move it in there. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, what's this discretionary personnel fund controlled by the Chief Usher?
MR. MCCURRY: Beats me. Do you know? We're still looking into it. We don't know what that is.
Geez, that's great. Good job guys. All right, we'll see you. You can beat up Rubin and those guys and Sperling and everybody a little bit later.
END 12:57 P.M. EDT