THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT UPON DEPARTURE The South Lawn
9:10 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I ran for President with a challenge to our country to replace the broken welfare system with one that expands opportunity, demands responsibility and reflects our values of faith, work and families.
Since I took office, we've worked hard to make this vision a reality. First, by working with 43 states to launch innovative experiments in welfare reform, and then by enacting a welfare reform law that challenged all our states and all people involved in the system to do far more to move from welfare to work.
Today, we received yet another piece of evidence that welfare reform is working far better than anyone had predicted it would. We learned that welfare rolls have continued their unprecedented decline, dropping by another 250,000 people in the most recent month alone -- one of the largest monthly drops ever. Altogether, we have seen our welfare rolls shrink by more than 1.7 million people since I signed the welfare reform law and by more than 3.6 million people, or 26 percent, since I took office.
This is a truly historic achievement for America. It shows that we can accomplish great things when our policies promote work and reflect our values. We're building an America where all families have the chance to center their lives around work, family and responsibility. But we have more to do to ensure that all those who can work are able to work.
The private sector here must do more to take the lead. The balanced budget law I signed last August not only repealed unfair cuts that targeted legal immigrants, but also created a $3-billion welfare to work program and increased incentives for businesses to hire former welfare recipients.
For our part, we've set a goal of hiring 10,000 people off the welfare rolls to fill existing jobs in the federal government. Later today, the Vice President, who has led this initiative, will report on our progress in doing our part.
We are working hard here to change lives to empower all Americans to seize the new opportunity of a new century. I am very encouraged by these welfare numbers. We now have the smallest percentage of our people on welfare in about three decades after the biggest drop in the welfare rolls in history. This proves that this system can work. But to get to the rest of the people, we have to have more help in creating these jobs, the businesses have to take advantages of the tax credits, and the municipal governments and others have to take advantage of the $3-billion fund. But this is great news for America today, and I must say I am very, very pleased.
Q Mr. President, Senator Thompson says that it's time for you to take personal responsibility for the campaign finance irregularities and relieve Janet Reno of her responsibility and simply ask for an independent counsel on your own. How do you respond to Senator Thompson on that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that, first of all, I have assumed responsibility. We set up a system that has given Senator Thompson 100,000 pages of documents. And I was surprised that these films had been subpoenaed and not turned over. I think there is a logical reason for it. I'm frustrated whenever there has not been absolutely full compliance, but I think it's in everyone's interest that the films be turned over, and I would urge you to watch them if you haven't. I think they will reinforce the fact that no one has done anything wrong here. So I would just urge -- there's been a lot of talk about these films; everybody ought to watch them and see what they show. That's what they're for.
The other thing I would say is, again, I'd say that question is a legal question, notwithstanding the best efforts of some to turn it into a political question. And I don't think there is any lack of evidence that the Attorney General, when she thought it was warranted, has asked for special counsels.
Q Mr. President, what about Senator Thompson's charge that you and your administration are just trying to run out the clock since his hearing mandate expires at the end of the year and that you've delayed, stonewalled and otherwise put barriers in the way of the investigation?
THE PRESIDENT: He knows better than that. I think he may be disappointed in the results of the hearings. He now has more evidence; if he wants to have more hearings, he's got them. But let Senator Thompson comment on what's in those films. He has 100,000 pages of documents. They have the evidence; if there is any more, we'll do our best to get it to them. They have the films; let them discuss what's on the films.
Q Mr. President, do you worry about the credibility of your administration in view of these mistakes, and do you think that you have hurt the Vice President in all of this campaign fundraising frenzy that's resulted in this?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I don't worry about our credibility. You know, it's interesting that we have come to this point after all these hearings and they're not talking about any wrongdoing by the President or the Vice President as uncovered in the hearings, they're talking about why they didn't have access to films which reinforced the fact that we didn't do anything wrong.
What I hope -- the only thing I ever hope in this is that we get through the smoke to the facts. Now, I have said -- and it's interesting that we're discussing this -- I have said all along and now for nearly five years that the campaigns have become too costly and require too much time to raise money and require too much money to be raised and that, inevitably, will raise some questions. And the only answer is to reform the campaign finance system.
Yesterday, there was yet one more attempt to kill any campaign finance reform. That is the real story there lurking in the weeds. I actually think it's probably pretty good strategy for those who are trying to kill campaign finance reform to try to talk about these films of events in the White House which were legal and which I want everybody to watch.
I think it's in everybody's interest to get whatever evidence is relevant out here. But once we get all the relevant evidence out, we need to really look at what's going on here. And what's going on here is that under the smoke screen about all these films, which everybody can now freely watch, there was yet one more attempt yesterday which I hope won't be successful to deal the death blow to campaign finance reform. And they've done it every year in the Senate, they've done it every year with a filibuster. This year, they're prepared to use a filibuster and two or three other tactics because they raised more money, more big money and more money from other sources than the Democrats, but both parties are going to have problems and question raised, and raise too much money and spend too much time raising it until we reform the campaign finance laws.
The big story yesterday was, one more time, they're doing their very best to kill it, and they're hoping that they can stir up all this business, I think, about these films. Now, I'm not defending the fact the films should have been turned over. But I think you've been given, I think, a pretty good background on what happened. I think there is a logical explanation. I don't like it, I'm frustrated when there's not complete compliance, but when we gave 100,000 pages of documents to Senator Thompson's committee, I think that's pretty good evidence of our good faith. We have tried to do no inappropriate things to resist his need to discover evidence; we want him to know the facts.
Yes, go ahead.
Q Mr. President, yesterday there was the first meeting in eight months between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat. No statements were made. What have you heard about that meeting and how do you see it in light of the latest events in the Middle East?
THE PRESIDENT: The most important thing it is that it occurred, and it occurred not a moment too soon. We've had some difficult developments in the Middle East. I am pleased that Ambassador Ross was able to put it together. As I said with President Weizman yesterday, it may be that the developments of the last few days have been so troubling and so difficult that it has gotten the attention of both sides, and clarified the necessity for them to get back to talking with each other and to get this peace process back on track. I hope -- I hope that is what happened. That is certainly what I have tried to do, certainly what Ambassador Ross is trying to do there. So the fact that they met is encouraging. I think it would be better for me at this moment to let them characterize the nature and results of the discussions they had.
END 9:20 A.M. EDT