THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) ______________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 24, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
David Lawrence Convention Center Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, what do you want to know? What's up?
Q What did the President -- his reception there was pretty quiet when he talked about fast track. What do you think about the reception he got?
MR. MCCURRY: I thought he got a very enthusiastic response. You know, that's a big hall and people greeted him warmly and listened carefully to what he had to say. There were some people in the back that wanted to make a point about fast track, and I think the President reminded them of his record in a very appropriate way.
But the President was very satisfied that he came here and did what he intended to do, which was to make the case about the future, that it's important for working people to understand. So he felt very good about it. And I think the President feels he made some headway with them today. We may not win -- we're not going to win the support of organized labor as we seek negotiating authority for the President, but, at the same time, they're going to understand his commitments and they're going to understand a little bit better the President's view of the changes this world is going through as we prepare for the next century.
Q Even given that he said it is a complicated subject and this particular audience is so hard to convince on it, why didn't the Vice President also make the case for fast track when he was here on Saturday?
MR. MCCURRY: The President and the Vice President worked out in advance of the President Vice President's appearance this sequence of speeches. The Vice President carried a very tough message privately to those leaders. But the President reserved the right to himself to make the case for fast track.
The President, in fact, told the Vice President he would prefer to take on the assignment of making the case for fast track himself, because he wanted to do it, he clearly had thought about it. He went on at considerable length beyond what the prepared text had for him on this subject because he told me he had thought a lot about it last night and how he wanted to shape and frame the argument that he was going to make today. And he indicated to me that he had specifically asked the Vice President to take the option of sidestepping the issue in his public remarks, but pressing it hard in private, so that he would have the platform to make the case today.
Q Is that because the President doesn't have to worry about getting reelected?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is mindful of political realities, but at the same time the President, himself, wanted to be the one to make the case. I said to him, this is -- I said, this is like when the top dog barks. And he looked at me as if I should not try Ozark aphorisms again. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, what involvement does the White House have, if any, at this stage in the Mir decision?
MR. MCCURRY: We got briefed when Administrator Goldin makes his decision, which will be sometime before launch time tomorrow. We'll be notified of the decision the Administrator makes. Obviously, he's talked about it a lot with the Vice President in recent days. The President has followed through Dr. Gibbons what the launch sequence is and what the review process is. But we're very confident that they have a good, methodical review process internally at NASA which the Administrator is responsible for.
And, of course, the Administrator at some point today or tomorrow -- I'm not sure when -- will hear from Lieutenant General Stafford and Mr. Young, who have conducted the two external reviews that are done. And the Administrator, presumably, is going to want to think about the go/no-go decision before he makes it.
Q Is there any precedent or provision for the White House actually informing NASA that it has an opinion on the matter?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We've gotten briefed consistently through this process. I think if either the Vice President or the President had any serious misgivings about the procedure we could sort of step in and say, wait a minute, take a look at this. I told you last week the Administrator and Dr. Gibbons came over and sat with Erskine Bowles and went in some detail through what the procedures are just so that we would have some confidence at the White House that NASA's review process is an adequate one. But we are comfortable that it is and comfortable that these decisions are taken very seriously and the safety of astronauts is taken seriously and that the cost and benefits of these missions are weighed appropriately by experts at NASA.
So we've assured the President that we've done what's necessary to make sure that the review process that NASA uses is adequate.
Q Mike, when you say, he talked a lot about this with the Vice President -- do you mean he, Goldin, or he, the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Goldin. Goldin has been in Moscow with the Vice President on the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. Of course, the Mir and U.S.-Russia space cooperation was a topic on the agenda, as the Vice President has indicated.
Q Mike, do they talk, Gore and Chernomyrdin, at all about the possibility of delaying the U.S. astronaut going up there?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I saw reported by the participants. But I'd refer you to the Vice President's party on that.
Q But you haven't been advised by them that they raise that issue?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that, again, the White House involvement, whether it's been the President, the Vice President or the Chief of Staff, has been just to be reassured that the process used at NASA for review is an adequate one and has a number of different peer reviews built into the system. But it technically and in terms of policy seems to be a very thorough one.
Q On campaign finance reform, is it the President's understanding that what Senator Lott agreed to yesterday in terms of opening up a debate will absolutely culminate in a vote before they go home?
MR. MCCURRY: That's our understanding, yes. That's our expectation.
Q And is that the requirement the President laid down in the letter yesterday --
MR. MCCURRY: No, his only requirement is a sufficient jury for adequate consideration, and the President is confident, based on what the Majority Leader announced yesterday that the issue will get that consideration.
Q I'm sorry, I don't mean to split hairs, but the President's threatened to keep Congress in session is just if there's not the full consideration at debate, the President does not require a vote? Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President wants to see final passage of campaign finance reform, but he wants the Senate to have that opportunity to consider it, to take it up and for senators to be recorded yea or nay in one fashion or another.
Q But you yesterday and Rahm this morning went further than his letter and both talked about a vote.
MR. MCCURRY: They've made it clear they're going to have a consideration and a vote. I don't know how it could be any more clear than what the Majority Leader announced when he presented the unanimous consent agreement yesterday.
Q What if there's a filibuster?
MR. MCCURRY: Then there would be a filibuster and then there would be a cloture vote and then move on.
Q But if you don't get 60 votes, there wouldn't be a vote.
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. That's the way the Senate rules work. What else?
Q Does the vote for 60 -- is that considered a vote?
MR. MCCURRY: A vote to limit debate by a vote in cloture is considered a vote under Senate rules, yes, the last I checked.
Q Mike, when you say you think the President made headway today, how does he measure that?
MR. MCCURRY: He had a lot of informal conversations with some of the leaders there present, and people thought the President struck the right tone, that he had stood his ground here. He made the argument that he believes passionately in, and he made the argument that might ring true to some of these members of labor that some of the strength of this economy has been built on the process of opening up markets overseas through free trade agreements. There are a lot of people in organized labor that understand the truth of that argument even if they understand some of the consequences for members in selected industries.
Q Politically, did he get any assurances about what labor will or won't do in the mid-term elections?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not for us to say. The President made it pretty clear that a lot of folks in this Congress are going to make a tough vote on this issue, and the President is asking them and putting the prestige of the presidency behind that vote, saying that I need your help. And the President made it clear to labor that they should not turn their backs on those who support the President on an issue this important, especially those who have stood with working people and their families in vote after vote in year after year.
Q Mike, do you know if he watched Gephardt's speech here on CSPAN or --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I didn't hear him say anything about it, or he didn't say anything to us about it. I didn't see a lot on it reported today, so I'm not sure if he knew much about the leader's speech.
Q Is there also a concern that labor may not so much vote against these members, but just sit out '98, as some people think they sat out in '94 because of NAFTA?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, I think, gave them a good argument not to do that today because he reminded them of what the potential consequences of that are in terms of who might be elected to fill the spots of those who cast a vote that labor doesn't like on this issue. And the President reminded them there might be some painful consequences for working people and their families if they turn their backs on these members who support the President on this vote. That's another reason why I think his message might have rung true to some of the people who heard it today.
Q Mike, do you know how many members of the Little Rock Nine the President knows personally? I know he knows Ernie Green, but there are other that he has met over the years?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he has met them over the years. He was telling some stories earlier to us. He was present at the 20th anniversary of Central High. In fact, he recalls that he and Jesse Jackson were the only speakers on that occasion. Of course, I guess he was governor in '87, when he hosted them at the Statehouse for the 30th anniversary ceremonies. He was kind of walking through, mentioning some of the names of the nine and recalling stories and personal reminisces about several of them. So I assume that he has met all nine at some point.
He has been, by the way, reading -- the Arkansas Democrat Gazette has been reprinting, over the last month, the stories or some of the facsimiles of the newspapers from 40 years ago, day by day. So he's actually been following -- he said that's been very fascinating to follow the local coverage in that paper as they built up to the actual day that the nine entered the school.
Q Did he see the U.S. News & World Report story about that make-up of the student body now and how segregated the honors classes are? There are lots and lots of honors classes that draw whites away from black high schools.
MR. MCCURRY: He did and I think that in some of the remarks he's been preparing for tomorrow he may address that general phenomenon.
That's it for today. We will see you tomorrow in Little Rock. When do you all leave here?
Q 2:00 p.m., I think.
MR. MCCURRY: He will probably -- it does not sound like he's doing much today, but he will probably be out and about. For those of you that have pool duty, it will probably be a long afternoon and evening -- knowing how much you'll look forward to that. (Laughter.)
END 12:28 P.M. EDT