THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House Briefing Room for today's daily briefing -- and that wake-up call. The President of the United States of America will address business leaders, scientists and environmentalists about global climate change in remarks at the National Geographic Society on Wednesday, October 22nd. The Vice President will also be in attendance for the President's address.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: At 2:40 p.m. And we'll have a briefing here at about 4:00 p.m.
Q Does that mean, Mike, that the President has not signed off on all of the boxes that he's supposed to check off on?
MR. MCCURRY: A lot of boxes; some of them are still in check, but most of them are checked. The President has been working a great deal on this issue, including talking to some of his counterparts around the world, exchanging views on what we hope will be an approach that will lead to success at Kyoto.
Q Is this the U.S. position for Kyoto, previewed, then, tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: This will be the thinking of the President and the United States government on issues central to the discussion in Kyoto.
Q And is this in some sense, then, being floated so that it can be further discussed between now and the beginning of December with other nations?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be further discussed because there is an international negotiation underway.
Q Would he discuss the mission levels?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll discuss a range of issues that are central to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, producing binding targets that can be achieved through flexible implementation, over time that will lead to curbs on the greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for global warming.
Q We never heard his reaction to the Energy Department report that came out yesterday as it relates to this whole issue. How does that affect his thinking?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes it underscores the importance of moving vigorously to address this issue and having a position that really reflects what ought to be a leadership role for the United States in this debate.
Q Will we see numbers tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll see all kinds of things. It will be a big speech. There will be a lot in it, there will be lots of news in it.
Q Will he talk about specific levels that he would like to see --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he'll talk about dates and timetables and all the issues that are relevant to the debate.
Q And what world leaders has he discussed this with?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to detail that. Some of those calls are ongoing.
Q You won't tell us who?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to. He's been working the phone pretty extensively and attempting to build what we hope will be a consensus position in the international community. I think it would be best if the leaders can lead and sometimes quiet diplomacy is the most effective diplomacy.
Q Are these the leaders of the Western industrialized nations, or leaders --
MR. MCCURRY: -- who you call.
Q Are these developing nations or --
MR. MCCURRY: -- who you call?
Q Developing or developed?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to drop hints.
Q You said industrialized this morning.
Q Yes, he did.
Q -- countries other than Argentina in the developing world that he can --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's had a number of conversations as a result of his trip to Latin America on this subject with leaders in that region, and we've had extensive diplomatic consultations.
Q This morning you said he was discussing with leaders of industrialized nations. Has he broadened that group or would you stick by that?
MR. MCCURRY: He's pretty much worked with the people that will be instrumental in crafting a consensus international position. Mostly industrialized -- in fact, all industrialized.
Q What's the White House reaction to the fact that the Supreme Court is considering the issue of crack cocaine sentencing versus powder, and especially since Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the case, if I understand correctly from the White House Legal Counsel's Office, is about how judges apply sentencing criteria when there are a mix of drugs in play. There have been different opinions rendered in lower courts. The U.S. government has rendered opinions in the Circuit Court consideration of these issues. It's not fundamentally an issue of drug disparity when it comes to sentencing. It's more about judicial discretion in applying sentencing recommendations. The White House Legal Counsel's been in contact with the Justice Department today, talking about what position, if any, the U.S. government might take in the case. But that would be up to the Solicitor General to advise on later.
Our views on the underlying issue are very well-known. I think the President, as you know, has endorsed a change that will ameliorate some of the disparities that exist in the sentencing recommendations for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine.
Q So you would stand firm to the 10-to-1 recommendation?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, this court -- if I understand the case, this case doesn't have anything to do with that issue.
Q Did Daschle or Lott give any indication about when fast track legislation may come up on the floor? And what else can you tell us about --
MR. MCCURRY: Majority Leader Lott is still here, and so I've conveniently kept you held hostage here so you won't be able to see him if he tries to sneak out. The Minority Leader had a very good conversation with the President. They talked about the agenda in the Senate in coming weeks. They did have a good discussion of fast track and where things stand, and the President and the Minority Leader agree that we ought to make a good-faith effort to continue bipartisan progress on all of the issues that are going to be on the Senate's calendar, whether it's campaign finance reform, whether it's fast track trade authority, whether it's making improvements that we need in education -- that the important thing is to keep momentum and keep building a spirit of bipartisan cooperation that can lead to results, not gridlock.
Q Where do you think fast track does stand? Where did they determine that it stands?
MR. MCCURRY: They had a good conversation about that subject.
Q Is Daschle firmly supporting the administration on fast track?
MR. MCCURRY: He's discussed his views publicly, and I don't want to attempt to speak for him.
Q Mike, any progress on locating the Jenrette letter or figuring out why --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't been working on that, but you should ask Lanny Davis. I don't know what they're doing. I haven't heard that they have figured out where it went or where it was.
Q There's growing talk on Capitol Hill that fast track may be delayed until after the recess. Administration officials last week indicated that that would kill it. Is that still the administration's position?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's still the administration's view that it's very important for the President to have the authority he needs to continue opening markets, to continue to provide opportunities as we saw reflected in trade numbers today that have led to record exports of U.S. goods and services abroad. He needs to continue to have the authority to negotiate those kinds of agreements, and the sooner we get it, the better. Therefore, making progress on that issue in the remaining weeks of this session is a very high priority for the President.
Q But does he agree with Daley?
Q But does there have to be a vote for it to survive --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the importance of this and the role that free trade plays in building a strong economy will make it abundantly clear sooner or later that having these kinds of agreements is good for all the people of the United States of America. But I think it will be especially clear that we need it sooner rather than later, and so our view is that we're going to press hard to try to get it now.
Q Mike, what do you hear from your people in Beijing with regard to discussions on the proliferation issues, sale of Chinese missiles to Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: -- been hearing long, complicated readouts of the important meetings they're having. I'm not going to provide any more detail beyond that.
Q Are they still ongoing? I gather there has been no conclusion.
MR. MCCURRY: They are ongoing and I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that our Senior Director for Asian Affairs has also now gone to join them, Sandy Kristoff, so that's added to the nonproliferation experts who are there currently.
Q Do you think it's a good idea that China would release some prisoners in advance of the summit next week?
MR. MCCURRY: We always have said that it would be a good idea for them to release people who are incarcerated only for political reasons; that's been our longstanding view.
Q But you believe there are prisoners who are incarcerated only for political reasons?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. We've so stated and raised our concerns directly with the government on numerous occasions.
Q Do you know how many there are?
MR. MCCURRY: If you check with the Human Rights Office at the State Department, they can give you a better assessment of that. I don't have that right with me, but I think they've made a good-faith effort to assess what the conditions are.
Q Response to Chairman Archer's latest IRS proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: Our understanding, now that we have had an opportunity to learn more about it, is that the burden of proof language that he has suggested is fairly narrowly drawn and might affect only a handful of cases. In any event, we continue good conversations on the Hill on a measure that would reform the IRS and give the American people a tax collection agency that is user-friendly and that meets the standards the American people would expect of any government agency and we're encouraged by some of the conversations we've had.
Q Does that mean this is now acceptable to you? This new version is acceptable to you?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not the person to pronounce that, but I think there are a lot of people who are looking carefully at that language.
Q Positively carefully?
Q The proposal as far as the IRS Oversight Board is concerned also would give that new body the authority to improve IRS budgets and to improve their long-term strategy, although the President would submit his own IRS budget.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with that provision. I do know that they've modified the bill so that the President would continue to have the authority to appoint the IRS Commissioner, which was a very important and necessary change, and there have been other accommodations in the bill as well. But that particular detail of the legislation I'm not familiar with.
Q What accounts for this friendlier attitude overnight towards this proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: We have been -- I don't know that I said anything different yesterday. I said we would look at Chairman Archer's language. We had concerns -- a wholesale shift in burden of proof would be a step in the wrong direction, but our understanding of the language is that it's fairly narrowly drawn.
Q How is it narrowly drawn?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently, it only affects a smaller number of cases than what some of the initial news reporting indicated.
Q Does that make the administration more favorably inclined to it?
MR. MCCURRY: I said again that we are having good, positive discussions on the Hill, looking for some kind of consensus. Again, we want to achieve results, not political theater. So we're interested in seeing if we can get to a point where we have bipartisan accommodation on a bill that will do what the administration wants to do and what I think in good faith the sponsors of the legislation on the Hill want, which is a reform for the IRS that will give the American people the kind of tax collection agency they desire.
Q Does it make any difference that Congressman Gephardt is going to formally endorse this proposal later today?
MR. MCCURRY: No. If he does, that's fine. We just prefer to find out more about it before we endorse it.
Q Given that the independent board issue is an even bigger one than this burden of proof, why hasn't that been looked at in --
MR. MCCURRY: We've been looking very carefully at that part of the bill, too, and having good discussions on that part of the bill.
Q Back on fast track. Does the administration still want a Senate vote first to try to push the House along? And if so, doesn't it hurt your case that the Minority Leader is talking about amending campaign finance to it --
MR. MCCURRY: The President has had a good discussion with the Minority Leader about that and since he's having a discussion with the Majority Leader presumably on much the same topic right now I'd rather not speculate on what the timing might be.
Q But you don't like that strategy?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on the timing. I think the leaders are meeting with the President and they are no doubt discussing timing.
Q Is the White House saying anything on the cyber terrorism issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Not today, but we'll have a statement available tomorrow on it. And again I would remind you that we have said all along that the work of the commission will need to be carefully reviewed and will lead over time to the development of our own recommendations. I don't really anticipate, as I said this morning, that happening much before the end of the year. But we'll have more to say on that tomorrow.
Q Mike, on next week's summit, will the President hold meetings with Jiang on both Tuesday and Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe our meetings are on Tuesday. He will be here for additional meetings during the day. Wednesday is our day.
Q Wednesday's your day. What is --
MR. MCCURRY: What else is he doing?
Q When does he meet with Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: Thursday. Do you have the paper -- just hold on, Leo. I'll get it for you. China -- number 12. All right? (Laughter.) Wrong China. Where is that? We had it yesterday? Oh, no. Number 13.
Q You hardly ever use that guidance --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I've got it right here. Tuesday is the 28th. So he arrives on the 28th. He'll be here from the 28th to the 30th. This will be the first state visit of a Chinese president in 12 years. He meets the President on October 29th. By the way, when he's here, we have a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn in the morning, a meeting with the President, followed by a press availability, a lunch at the State Department, and a state dinner at the White House that evening. This does not say what else he's going to do.
COL. CROWLEY: The Embassy of China will give a press briefing tomorrow at 11:00 a.m.
MR. MCCURRY: Very good. We're leaving it to the Chinese to -- I suppose that's fair. We would prefer announce the schedule of our President ourselves as well.
Q Could you clarify your answer to -- question. In the past, the President has said that he is full -- foursquare behind the campaign finance reform supporters who want to attach it to anything and everything. Is he no longer in favor of --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, no. We fully well understand that people who are working these issues on the floor take advantage of whatever tactical situations they have, and that's clearly what Senator Daschle has done. And since we are sympathetic to his underlying purpose, I think we are sympathetic to his tactics. My only point was he's talked about this with Senator Daschle today and is talking about it with Senator Lott right now and I just don't want to get cross ways by speculating on what the outcome of those discussions might be.
Q Right, but it would be wrong to say the White House is discouraging campaign finance reform supporters from attaching it to the President's priority items --
MR. MCCURRY: That would be very wrong. It would be very wrong to say we are in any way discouraging the supporters of campaign finance reform on the Hill. And tactics, while the tactics are their choice, we are often very sympathetic of the tactics pursued by those who are advancing objectives that the President believes are worthy.
Q Can I go back to the press availability?
Q Say what?
MR. MCCURRY: Those were a whole lot of words that didn't say very much.
Q You said a press availability with Jiang as opposed to a joint news conference, is that right?
MR. MCCURRY: The same sort of deal we usually do.
Q A joint press conference.
MR. MCCURRY: Joint press conference, 450.
Q How much of Jiang's visit is actually vetted by the White House, his various movements, activities, stops, lunches and meals?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we normally in terms of protocol, work with any visiting head of state to arrange -- make sure we have suitable arrangements made and make sure that our law enforcement people, our security people, people in charge of logistics understand. But they also have a right to pursue interests and objectives of their own. In this case, I think the People's Republic has elected to do that. He has a whole schedule outside of Washington that the Chinese Embassy can brief you on tomorrow.
Q Williamsburg is not in any way a White House sponsored visit?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We are not -- they make their own determinations about where to go. Now, they work cooperatively with us so that we can, as good hosts for a state visit, assure that proper arrangements and logistics are made. That's what we would expect when we travel to a foreign country and that's what we offer to those who travel here.
Q Do you expect the allegations of Chinese influence in political campaigns here in the United States to be an issue during this summit?
MR. MCCURRY: We have raised that at high levels before. I don't want to predict what will be on the agenda for the summit.
Q Are there any particular goals for the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a number of them and the President will be addressing them in a speech later in the week, and we'll be briefing on that speech. I'd really prefer to let the President set out what his fundamental objectives are. First and foremost, it's to continue the very important engagement we've had with the People's Republic, a constructive engagement with that country that allows us to pursue objectives of mutual interest and to advance our own interests in that region. And our view has long been that engagement and the exchange of visits, the pursuit of an active diplomacy with the People's Republic is a far better way to advance our own interests in that region than isolation or containment.
Q Is there any degree of pomp or -- that you are not giving China that --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll let others brief. My understanding is that we are conducting this state visit as we do, in protocol terms, similar to other state visits.
Q What are the concerns for the meeting with the Mexican official this week for this bilateral -- against narco trafficking?
MR. MCCURRY: Are we having a meeting?
Q Yes, this week.
MR. MCCURRY: Is McCaffrey going from Colombia -- will he be in Mexico as part of that same trip?
Q No, he is going to be here in Washington.
MR. MCCURRY: You will have to check with our NSC folks after. I'm not aware of it.
Q One more on the IRS reform. It's the opinion of some lawmakers that it's a moot point, or it's becoming a moot point whether or not the White House supports the Archer plan because they believe that a veto-proof margin is building in favor of this proposal.
MR. MCCURRY: I think this is, you may have gathered, an unfolding situation. (Laughter.) So that question itself may be moot.
Q -- to beat this dying horse on NAFTA and campaign finance one more time -- no, fast track. If those -- even if they could succeed, which they can't, in attaching it, it would kill fast track. So why can't you just say that you oppose this strategy?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we've had -- there are meetings going on right now and we've had a meeting earlier today, and suffice it to say we would like to find a way to advance both of these important objectives -- giving the President the authority he needs to negotiate trade agreements and to get a date certain or a way in which we can move forward with campaign finance reform. And there are discussions underway and I'm not going to stand here and sort of speculate how we might resolve that, other than to say we hope that all of these questions at the end of the day might be moot, so that the Senate can proceed on both priority matters that the President considers important.
Q Yesterday, Senator Daschle said that he doesn't believe many Americans are overtaxed. Does the President agree?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has long made tax relief, especially for the middle income, a hallmark of his economic strategy, and we've found ways to do that in a way that spurs economic growth. In fact, the way in which we have brought tax relief first to the poorest working Americans through the EITC and then expanding it through the middle income tax relief has been smart economic strategy and has contributed to some of the growth we see in the U.S. economy.
The best thing for all the working people of this country is that we've had a strong, growing economy and is providing job opportunities at low rates of inflation, and that has contributed to a rising standard of living for many Americans, and doing all of that in the context of also providing tax relief. That's the President's plan, and it's working.
Q He agrees or disagrees with him?
MR. MCCURRY: The President favors tax relief and has long favored tax relief and will no doubt continue to look for ways to ease the tax burden on the American people.
Q Back to cyber terrorism for a minute.
MR. MCCURRY: I can't say anything, really, on that today, but I will be happy to do it at greater length tomorrow.
Q Two separate questions. One, are you hailing the advent of the electric car that the Energy Department --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I'm hailing the advent of the electric car. (Laughter.) Secretary Pena is going to brief reporters in a short while on a breakthrough in fuel cell technology that holds great promise for the reduction of greenhouse gases. We've been talking about our overall strategy on greenhouse gas reductions. One way in which we can do that is through the vigorous application of new technologies, and there's been apparently a very exciting breakthrough in fuel cell technology, developed in part with a $15-million grant from the Department of Energy, which would allow the conversion of gasoline to electricity, yielding twice as much energy per gallon of gas as a conventional car engine. That's very good news, and Secretary Pena will be briefing people about it in greater detail shortly.
Q -- wonder why you would get excited about something that's not going to see a showroom floor for a dozen years.
MR. MCCURRY: What are the time frames that we're talking about? For those of you who are following the Kyoto discussions, the time frames we're talking about are periods between now and 2010, 2015 and beyond. So the discussions that are going to be -- that's been the public debate about this issue and achieving the kind of greenhouse gas emissions reductions and leveling off the levels of emissions has been something that is going to be clearly a multi-decade effort. So that could be very significant in helping to achieve whatever binding, realistic targets are developed as a result of the international regime. That's the significance.
Q The trade deficit figures that came out today showed the wide gap with China growing. I think it's the worst in like -- the deficit is the biggest in seven months. Do you find this troubling before the summit, and how much --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's important on all of these trade deficit numbers to step back and look what the bigger picture is -- rather than looking at bilateral trade numbers, to look back at the overall picture. Now, we did have, obviously, some change in the overall numbers, but the trade deficit for the last full quarter is lower relatively to the size of the economy than at any time now since the period 1984 to 1990.
The fundamental importance of the numbers are that there's been record export level, so we're selling more goods and services abroad and the strength of U.S. economy makes it possible for the U.S. consumer to buy more from abroad, which is why we have a high level of imports. That's a picture of a strong economy. But the key thing is that we are creating economic livelihood in America by increasing our levels of exports abroad.
If you start looking at country by country -- China, we have a growing deficit, but we're buying a lot from them. Mexico has now surpassed Japan as our second largest export market for the second month in a row, and exports to Mexico are up by 18 percent. So you have to look country by country what the overall picture suggests.
Q So it's good news?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, it's good news that we have a strong economy that allows people the buy goods and services from China. That is good news. Now, can we work out -- work more balance into this trading relationship over time? Of course, and we have bilateral trade discussions underway with China for that purpose.
Q Commerce Secretary Daley said today that he was seriously concerned about the trade deficit with China. How do we square these two --
MR. MCCURRY: He's a trade negotiator and -- or, in part is a trade negotiator, and they want to reduce those -- they want to increase levels of exports to China. We want to open that market to more goods and services from the United States. And that, of course, is one of the things a Commerce Secretary would pursue.
Q But not the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, too. That's been a fundamental premise of our entire economic strategy, to open markets overseas for U.S. goods and services. Everyone knows that.
Q Does this mean that that's not happening?
MR. MCCURRY: It means that we're buying more. It's simple: we have got a lot of income. Incomes are rising. We have a strong economy. Therefore, we are buying more from China than we are selling them. We need to sell them more, we will look for ways to sell them more. But it's not necessarily a bad thing that U.S. consumers are purchasing goods and services from China.
Q As a part of that effort are we likely to increase the sale of nuclear reactor technology to China?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a back-door way to try to get me to comment on something I avoided earlier. Let's go on.
Q I thought it was a rather front door -- (laughter.)
Q How involved will the Vice President be in the summit next week? Will he be joining the President --
MR. MCCURRY: As he always is at important international occasions, he will be at the President's side and will be a vigorous participant. Unless he's going to be out of town. (Laughter.) No, I'm sure he plans to participate.
Q Dr. Satcher's nomination hearing tomorrow -- expect it to be a walk?
MR. MCCURRY: We would hope so, given the overall caliber of the nominee. And I have not heard anything indicating that there was any opposition developing. I think he's had very successful meetings with members of the committee and set forth his very impressive credentials along with, I think, his very impressive personal experience. And I think, from the reports I've had, the Senators who have met him look forward to giving him a favorable consideration.
Q Mike, now that you're about to announce a climate change position, can you say whether or not the President or Vice President will go to Kyoto?
MR. MCCURRY: No. It's too early to make any determination like that. I've heard nothing about initial planning that would suggest either one is going, but it would be some time before we know what the outcome in Kyoto is going to be. This is going to very, very hard work, and one purpose of the President's diplomacy in the last day and a half has been to really see what the prospects are for success in Kyoto. They are far from certain that there can be success there because there is a great range of opinions within the international community, spanning the horizon on what country's belief should be an effective response to the problem of global warming.
Q If it's not successful, will the President commit the administration to meeting whatever position he sets out independently?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not proper to address that question at this point.
Q You say these talks in the last day and a half have confirmed that it's far from certain that Kyoto will --
MR. MCCURRY: That was already known. I think the effort of the President was to see what the prospects are for bridging some of the gaps that do exist.
Q And what do you think he's learned from this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that he continues to believe it's going to be difficult, but that's -- I think everyone knew that going into this process.
Q Do you think it would be appropriate, as a matter of principle, that if there is a reduction in oil consumption, to compensate the OPEC nations for that, as they're demanding, as an issue for this agreement?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not seen that addressed in any of the work-up on this issue.
Okay, see you tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:06 P.M. EDT