THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
2:04 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I have to get to get these guys out because they are actually -- the President is waiting for them at this moment.
A couple of other things quickly. First, I want to start by thanking Professor Harry Harding from George Washington University and Professor Ken Lieberthal for the really excellent briefing they gave. Thanks to both of them for what I thought was a very excellent briefing setting up the China Summit next week.
Next announcement, Secretary Albright and Secretary Rubin together are going to do a duet on fast track tomorrow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They will give a joint address entitled "Fast Track: A Key to American Leadership" at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tomorrow at 1:45 p.m., over across the way.
Another item, the President today has signed into law S1000, which will name the U.S. Courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas, the Robert J. Dole United States Courthouse. Isn't that sweet?
Q Did he call Dole to tell him he's doing that?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question. I don't know if he did or not. I know that the Senator was aware of that and obviously aware that that tribute had been paid to him by this Congress.
And that's all I have. Anything else?
Q The L.A. Times is saying that the President is going to sign a directive -- plans to sign a directive to limit foreign-made assault weapons coming into the country. Is that true?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's -- when the President is ready to take that action, that's something I would be happy to talk about. That's something that he has worked hard on -- the import of assault weapons, the general ban on the availability of those types of weapons. We now are seeing manufacturers who are able in a sense to clone assault weapons and slip underneath the standards that exist in the 1993 act that was passed -- I'm sorry, 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The President has been concerned about that and has been contemplating action, but I have nothing I can announce at this time.
Q Mike, has the White House been tracking the rise in tuberculosis in this country due to international air travel? Do you see this as a growing public health concern? There are people around town that have been raising this.
MR. MCCURRY: I know there have been some epidemiological studies done on that by CDC, but really you should go to either there or HHS. They can tell you more about it.
Q What's the President's comments about this cloning issue that's coming up again; this time the headless tadpoles.
MR. MCCURRY: Headless tadpoles. You are asking me about headless tadpoles? Okay. Well, let's go right to the headless tadpoles. The President has already put in a prohibition on the use of federal funds for the creation of human embryos. The issue here is not tadpoles; the issue is whether this is a technology, obviously, that could lead to the cloning of headless humans -- (laughter) -- I'm not making this up -- for the retrieval of organs, for people who need organs for transplant, whether or not there is some potential medical use. Some British scientists have apparently mastered this technology and the issue is whether or not you can grow organs for potential transplant.
The President has already put a prohibition on the use of federal funds for the creation of human embryos. His views on human cloning are very succinct and very clear, as they were stated to the National Bioethics Commission that he appointed. The Commission and the President believe it's morally unacceptable for anyone in the public or private sector, whether in a research or an official setting, to attempt to create a human being through cloning.
The President has said we must be careful not to unintentionally impede otherwise important biomedical research that does not raise those types of ethical concerns.
So we would need to know a lot more about the nature of the research that's being undertaken in the United Kingdom. Next question.
Q Several congressmen held a news conference today to look into stopping the sale of Chinese human organs to the U.S --
MR. MCCURRY: Halloween is coming, isn't it? (Laughter.)
Q What's the President's reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check into that. I don't know whether there's some federal involvement or oversight on that particular issue, but I'm not familiar with it standing here now.
Q I didn't quite understand your answer on the assault weapons. It's a very important question --
MR. MCCURRY: I more or less confirmed it without confirming it. I confirmed it, I said just not yet.
Q What does the President think the federal government's role should be on child care, and what role is he planning to take in this show that's going to be going on tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow the President will be very keen on stimulating a national discussion that we have not had within the policymaking world, which is exactly the answer to your question -- what should the proper role be for the provision of day care, child care, something that now substantially impacts the lives of millions and millions of Americans, if not most working Americans.
The President and the First Lady tomorrow, as you know, are going to host this conference. They hope, first, that it will call national attention to an issue that policymakers have historically ignored. Second, it will be a basis on which to consider additional policy initiatives. We hope growing out of this conference tomorrow will be some answers to the question of what should precisely the federal government do, if anything, in helping Americans secure the kind of child care that they need.
The conference is going to focus on three areas: the availability of child care -- what is access like for Americans at various income levels; second, affordability -- what are the costs, what are the anticipated costs over time and how can you more adequately pay for child care; and, third, the safety and quality of the child care -- what kind of standards exist, what kind of standards should exist.
I believe growing out of this there will be some consensus that it's important to see if the United States can make sure that individual American citizens at all income levels and despite circumstances and geography, income and so forth, have access to child care. How that will be provided or how we can stimulate the provision is something I think the President's advisors will want to examine and look on, based in part on some of the expert advice we get tomorrow.
Q But does he come into this with any philosophy on whether the federal government should have a role in this issue? Or is this just a day set aside to show people that he's thinking about something that they care about?
MR. MCCURRY: His general philosophy is one you've heard him articulate often: that one of the central challenges in this world we now live in, in this economy we now live in, is balancing the needs of raising families with the requirements that we have in the work place, and how do you juggle both being a wage earner and homemaker simultaneously. You've heard the President talk about that a lot.
He has clearly moved to put the federal government on the side of the American family through things like the Family and Medical Leave Act. It is, no doubt, possible to find ways in which the federal government might properly, prudently, in an era of which there is no longer big government, but at least right government, find the kind of role that would be effective in making sure that Americans have access to affordable, quality child care.
Q How did the First Couple react to the Parents Magazine survey, that nine out of 10 parents were dissatisfied with the quality of child care that they were receiving?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President -- but certainly also the First Lady -- are familiar with generally -- I don't know if they're familiar with that particular series, but they're familiar with that general assessment of child care. One of the things that stimulated the interest that they both have in this issue is so many Americans anecdotally telling them and so many studies suggesting that the acquisition and availability of child care is a principal, dominant concern in many working American families at all income levels -- from higher-income earning people down to the lowest income workers who find it very, very difficult both to afford and find quality day care.
Q Well, Mike, the first study said basically this is a problem that hasn't changed in 20 years. Is there something in either the societal or the economic or the political climate that makes them think that Congress and that businesses and that parents are willing to take a new look at this and willing to do some hard things?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that they feel in part the interest that stimulated by having a conference of this nature is part of what can change the dynamic for consideration of what the proper role for policymakers are. I mean, this is not an issue that has historically, as I said, been part of what policymakers address and look at.
And they believe that by putting the focus on it here at the White House during a day-long conference tomorrow you might stimulate the kind of interest that will change the receptivity of dealing with this problem as a matter of national policy.
Q So he has no concrete ideas or proposals?
MR. MCCURRY: As I say, I think the focus of this conference is to organize and launch what will very likely become a concrete policy-making exercise.
MR. MCCURRY: By getting the best experts available and talking about what is needed, what kinds of frustrations and problems individual Americans confront, what are the anticipated needs over time as you look ahead -- all subjects that are going to be addressed by some of the experts tomorrow -- and then beginning to use that accumulated foundation of information as a way to begin some serious work on policy.
Q Mike, would you comment on what you expect the President and the Patriarch to discuss this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: The President looks forward to a vibrant and interesting discussion with the Patriarch on matters related to religious freedom, religious tolerance, and also the environment. I suspect the President will want to share his thinking on global climate change with the Patriarch, since the Patriarch is a well-known leader and expert in that area himself.
Q Why can't we cover a person of this importance? If the Pope was coming and it would be a reception here at the White House, we should be allowed to cover it. And in this case, we are not being allowed to cover anything.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, I understand your concerns. Any other questions?
Q Is that all your answer is?
MR. MCCURRY: That's all my answer is, yes. Any other questions?
Q What do you make of China's call for the United States to silence protests during President Jiang Zemin's visit next week?
MR. MCCURRY: It's welcome to democracy. That's not likely to happen. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, on that, what has the White House advised the Chinese to expect here in the way of protest? The briefers said they felt that that had been passed along to you.
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's accurate to say we have tried to help the leadership of the People's Republic understand the vibrant political culture that we have in the United States -- the way in which Americans express freely their ideas and the importance that we attach as a free people to the right of dissent, the right of expression, and the freedom to express openly one's views. We have made it clear to the Chinese that they can anticipate seeing that reflected in the very healthy debate about China that will occur during the state visit. And they will be able to read in our newspaper, see in our streets, encounter anecdotally the way in which Americans deal with controversial issues.
And we think that will be a positive and good thing for leaders of a totalitarian system to see that healthy debate is something that should not be feared; it should be embraced because it is, after all, the underpinnings of the kind of social and economic change that the Chinese are otherwise encouraging themselves in the economic realm. Our belief is that those changes that are occurring in the economic realm, moving to markets, require the kind of political freedoms that are associated with a democratic system.
Q So if we're so open, how come there's no photo op with the Orthodox leader?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a limited amount of time here.
Q The President changed his position yesterday on the IRS bill, and there were some Democrats who continue to oppose it, arguing that it's not good policy to have a powerful citizen board and shift the burden of proof. I wonder if the White House has heard from any of those Congressional Democrats who continue to oppose this idea.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we have heard from them, and I think, if anything, our sense was that on the Hill, there was a receptivity to the changes that had been made in the bill. There was some appreciation that the administration had failed to get some of the kinds of changes that would allow the President to be supportive. I think that probably will no doubt lead to more Democrats on the Hill being supportive of the legislation itself. But I'm not aware that we've heard from anyone on the Democratic side dissenting with the position we've taken on the bill.
Q The Chinese Embassy spokesman, he suggested that the Chinese felt it was the responsibility of the United States to keep these protests under control. And I'm just wondering, have they actually said that to you?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't know that they've said that to us, but they do expect from us what we expect when the President travels abroad, which is that we will provide safety and security as a visiting dignitary travels. We just were in Buenos Aires last week, in which law enforcement officials had to deal with disturbances that existed there. This is not uncommon when leaders, heads of state travel around the world. There are security arrangements that will be made.
But that's not the same thing as suppressing any legitimate dissent. That's not something we do in this country and that's not something that we would even entertain a discussion of with Chinese officials.
Anything else for the day?
MR. LOCKHART: The Patriarch.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, it's open. Okay.
Helen -- (laughter) -- you have enormous power. The reception here at the White House that the First Lady will host on behalf of the Patriarch will be open, and it's in the East Room, and it will be --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the time, but it's later on this afternoon.
MR. MCCURRY: -- later on this afternoon. We will be very happy to entertain you there.
Q Thank you very much.
END 2:20 P.M. EDT