THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Having no prepared material to entertain you with, I will entertain your questions instead.
Q The Iraqis are saying they're going to kick out the American inspectors in about three hours. Has there been any change in that deadline that you know of, and how would the U.S. view that move?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the United States would see that as one more indication of willful disregard of relevant U.N. mandates by Saddam Hussein that would provoke the predictable response from the international community. We, of course, will wait to see what judgments are made by the team that has been dispatched by Secretary General Kofi Annan and to meet with authorities in Baghdad. They are expected to return to New York to brief the Security Council on Monday, and we'll be in close consultations as we have been throughout this period with other members of the Security Council, other members of the Permanent Five on what course of action would be appropriate.
Q Mike, you said the reaction of the international community would be predictable. Would you care to predict it?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think it will have to develop with the same unanimity we've seen so far in the Security Council in declaring Saddam Hussein's actions to be unacceptable. There's been a high degree of unanimity in the response of the world community to this latest provocation from Saddam Hussein, and as always, the resolve and will of the international community we believe will be very clear if he chooses this very unwise course of action.
Q Has the President sent any kind of warning -- in any way, through diplomatic --
MR. MCCURRY: It's been made very clear both privately and publicly through a variety of emissaries from a variety of nations, that Saddam Hussein ought to comply with his requirements under relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and should not attempt to defy the will of the international community or interfere with those who are appropriately under the auspices of the United Nations carrying out their mandated work.
Q Is it fair to say that until the U.N. diplomats report to the Security Council on Monday, until then there won't be any unilateral U.S. action?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- haven't suggested anything about a course of action other than to say that we will work closely with other members of the international community and we will certainly be very interested in what report is returned by the delegation the Secretary General has sent. And again, that is due on Monday.
Q Mike, in the meantime, has the U.S. as a member of the Security Council, passed on to other members of the Council suggestions as to what the U.N. response should be if Saddam Hussein persists?
Mr. MCCURRY: We'd remain in very close contact with other members of the Security Council, especially the Permanent Five.
Q But that's not answering the question whether you have --
MR. MCCURRY: It's as much as I'm going to answer it right now.
Q What do you make of reported Iraqi troop movements and, yesterday, apparent test-firing of weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: We monitor vigorously and constantly the state of military deployments there. I'm not going to share all of our assessments other than to say that they appear to be taking seriously the thought that there would be serious consequences if they fail to comply with the will of the international community.
Q Can you say if you've seen unusual --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go beyond what I just said.
Q Mike, if the U-2 is fired upon, will U.S. forces defend themselves?
MR. MCCURRY: As Secretary of Defense Cohen has already said, we doubt that the Iraqis would be that foolish.
Q Mike, why does the U.N. report wait until Monday? Aren't we in telephone contact with --
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's a long way to Baghdad and they're not there yet, and they have to meet and they have to return to New York and, given the reality of the travel, they'll be back to New York on Monday.
Q Telephone contact?
MR. MCCURRY: They will brief the Security Council in person at the request of the Secretary General.
Q Is the U.S. doing any special troop movements in relation to the situation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to talk about operational deployments of U.S. forces either unilateral or deployed in assistance of furtherance of U.N. action.
Q What do you think is going on with Bill Lann Lee's nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that there is a determined effort by Senator Hatch to try to stop that nomination and I think it's very unfortunate. Given the overall quality of that nominee, given his record, given his experience, given his reputation for conciliation, he is someone who clearly can provide superb leadership to the Office of Civil Rights at the Justice Department. That is a position that the President takes very seriously, because enforcement of civil rights laws is something this President cares about a lot. And if Chairman Hatch believes that someone should follow the policies that he wishes to pronounce in the area of civil rights, which I suggest would amount to rolling back some of the progress we've made in civil rights, then Orrin Hatch should resign from the Senate, run for President, and he can name his own assistant attorney general for civil rights. That's not the way our system works.
Q Mike, can you just tell us specifically which groups are going to be --
MR. MCCURRY: They'll be -- I don't have a full list yet, but there will be representatives of major civil rights organizations that will be here to meet with Mr. Podesta in a short while, because we want to mobilize those who believe this is a very qualified, superb nominee and see if we can't do everything possible to get this nomination passed and confirmed before the Senate retires for the year.
Q Mike, this morning you said you would discuss efforts by conservative congressmen to link the abortion issue to fast track with the Mexico City language in the foreign -- bill. Is there any way that the President would ever accept that provision in order to gain passage of fast track where you can consider it?
MR. MCCURRY: Our statements of policy on matters related to international family planning issues and the earmarks that have been attached to previous foreign appropriations bills are very well-known. We, at this moment are trying to work through language that the administration would find acceptable, given that members of Congress want to express themselves on this point. Whether or not we can achieve an amicable resolution is far from clear at this point.
Q Mike, could you reflect on the timing of Saddam Hussein's provocations? Last time, it was in the middle of the presidential campaign, and do you think -- this time it's in the middle of a campaign, the President's been out quite a bit -- do you think that Saddam Hussein's sitting over there, thinking he's not minding the store, this is a good time?
MR. MCCURRY: It's just literally impossible to imagine what goes into such a convoluted and tortured mind. (Laughter.) It is usually foolhardy, whatever the rationale and why he would elect this particular moment in the calendar to provoke some confrontation with the United Nations is far from clear. There are any number of reasons why one might imagine, but I don't think, given the quality of thinking that goes into his decision-making, it's useful to speculate.
Q Can you tell us about how the President has monitored the situation since he has been doing other things like raising money?
MR. MCCURRY: He's monitored it very carefully, as he always does with national security matter, through briefings that he gets from his National Security Advisor. He's never far away from the information that he needs in order to protect this nation's interests overseas.
Q Mike, on fast track -- Republicans are saying that they hope that Newt Gingrich gets something for kind of carrying the weight of this vote, and I'm wondering what kind of concessions you have in mind.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I wouldn't think of it in terms of concessions, but we, of course, will work carefully with the Republican leadership to try to understand the concerns they want to bring to the table in the closing hours of this session. And we recognize that it's a process of give and take when you've got a Republican Congress and a Democratic President.
Q What's abortion got to do with fast track?
Q -- understanding about, like the census?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a number of areas that we are looking into. I think in the area of the census the Speaker has made on behalf of his caucus a very impassioned argument about the need to do everything to see whether or not we can achieve by counting an accurate census. And I think the administration is -- even though we still firmly believe that statistical sampling is going to have to be a part of an accurate census, we are willing to concede that there are ways in which we should address that issue in a way that acknowledges some of the concerns that have been raised by the Speaker on behalf of his caucus. And, hopefully, we can figure out a way to bridge the gap and differences between our points of view.
Q On the meeting the President's going to have with the congressional leadership on Bosnia, what exactly is the President asking members of Congress at this point to do?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first, to think about the enormous progress that we've made since the Dayton Accords have been signed and as they've been implemented. He will point to a lot of the progress that we've achieved in Bosnia over the last 23 months; and then make the point that we can't turn our backs on that progress, we have to build on it if we want to restore some measure of hope to the people who suffered during the war for so long in Bosnia. And how we protect and preserve those gains, what the international community does, what the international presence is, what role the United States plays, is something that he wants to think through very carefully. And consulting with Congress before they depart for the year is a very wise thing to do, particularly because we have to start making some real-time decisions as we go into next year on drawing down the American presence there -- which will happen. But then the question of what happens beyond June of 1998 is something that the President will have to address after consulting closely with the leadership of Congress and with those who -- particularly in the foreign affairs area who are going to be there.
Q But Mike, does he want them to do something specific legislatively before they leave, or his happy with the wriggle room that they've given him in the legislation --
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing required in the time between now and when they depart for the year other than that they are here in town and it is an opportunity for us to talk to them and the President's thinking needs to begin developing as we go through the balance of the year and into next year.
Q You talked about the process of give-and-take on fast track. Many of the Democrats are concerned about workers who are going to lose their jobs, who might lose their jobs. What's the President going to do for displaced workers?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been talking to many members who have expressed those concerns. Many of them raised legitimate concerns about workers who are temporarily displaced when we have a sea change in the global marketplace, when there are trading relationships that allow us to take comparative advantage of areas in which we have strength and as economies adjust and change and shift to reflect the new advantages we have as we export goods and services. And to provide some assistance to workers who are temporarily dislocated because of the effects of trade is something that's long been recognized through programs like the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. And I suspect the President will talk a little bit more tomorrow about some of the things we've developed in close consultations with members of Congress who have raised that as an area of concern.
Q I was hoping you might share some of the previews of it.
MR. MCCURRY: I think you were hoping falsely that I would make the President's news now that he intends to make tomorrow.
Q Mike, do you think it was a mistake when the President yesterday called repeal of the Virginia car tax selfish? The Republicans --
MR. MCCURRY: No, and that's not -- if you go back and look at what he said, he said that you cannot surrender to selfish impulses when you want to take a long-term view about the importance of something like education. This is really a long-term investment in education and the President believes that the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia are going to recognize the importance of making that long-term investment in their children.
Q You don't think it was a political mistake? I mean, it's such an easy --
MR. MCCURRY: No. It was a great opportunity for the President to tout the merits of the nominee there, and the nominee has surely gained as a result.
Q Mike, getting back to Bill Lann Lee, will the President be talking to any senators this evening on this nomination -- this troubled nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out. I think that we're right now caucusing with the groups that have been active on the Hill in support of the nomination. We're going to get an assessment of where we are and we're going to see if we can't find some way to push this nomination forward.
Q Has the President also talked with Bill Lann Lee himself today since Orrin Hatch's statement?
MR. MCCURRY: The President hasn't talked to him directly, but I think others in the administration have been in contact.
Q Were you surprised that Hatch was as tough as he was? A lot of people --
MR. MCCURRY: I am --
Q -- from the Hill were, and they felt that maybe he was responding to pressure from people like Gingrich.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, from the crazies on his right, which is very possibly what he's responding to. But it should not be about politics. It ought to be about the President's right under this Constitution to name someone who will effectively and superbly administer his policies and the right of the United States Senate under the Constitution to advise and consent. Senator Hatch seems to have the Constitution upside down. He thinks that he's got the right to appoint the assistant attorney general for civil rights and he does not.
Q Who would be "those crazies on the right"?
MR. MCCURRY: The groups that really want to roll back the clock when it comes to the progress we've made in civil justice and empowering people of color and minorities and really working to break down the barriers that continue to exist in this society and continue to be a reason why we must have the tool of affirmative action available to correct those injustices.
Q So you weren't referring to members of the Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: I wasn't referring to members of the Congress, but there are certain sympathies in some members of Congress that run in that direction, do they not?
Q -- California electorate.
Q You've had balky chairmen before, Republicans, and you have lost.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we more often win than lose.
Q Election night readout?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate anything tonight. I think the President will be out and about tonight and I imagine our reaction will come tomorrow, probably from the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Q What about a readout about -- after Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: I can give it to you now. (Laughter.) The President had a very intense, good, productive consultation with the leadership of Congress. They explored all the progress that we've made in Bosnia, all the things that have happened there as we've separated war and parties. The President reviewed the fact that we've now got 370,000 troops that have returned to civilian life as a result of the implementation of Dayton; a stable military environment has been created; 20 indicted war criminals are now awaiting prosecution at The Hague. We are strengthening the role of a vigorous and free press in Serbia so they can report accurately to the people of the Republic of Srbska, especially; the ongoing developments as civil life is restored.
We have seen real economic progress in Bosnia, real GDP has almost doubled in 1996. We've made a priority of devoting aid from the international community to reconstruction, and that's working because people are returning to jobs. People who were starving and freezing to death in past winters in Bosnia are going to have food and heat this winter, and that progress is not going to be thrown away as we prepare for the future.
All of these points the President will make by way of saying that we cannot fail to build on that progress. And he will consult, and did consult, with Congress on the best ways to do that.
Q Why don't you say what he's going to do, which is to ask for an extension beyond June?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the President is not going to do that. And I think one thing the President will likely tell the members tonight is that this mission deserves the support of Congress and the American people because it ought to -- and it needs to have that if it's to continue. That has always been a hallmark of American presence overseas when we put people in harms way. And the President will seriously consult on what kind of support there would be --
Q Oh, you mean he wouldn't necessarily ask --
MR. MCCURRY: -- amongst the American people to have that kind of deployment.
Q But is it still the fear that if the U.S. were to leave next summer as originally scheduled, the other NATO allies would leave as well, and that that would unravel the Dayton peace process?
MR. MCCURRY: European governments have made quite clear that their willingness to continue to be present is part of an international effort in Bosnia depends on U.S. leadership. And I think the history is now clear that the solution to that problem in the Balkans pretty much requires U.S. leadership because the Europeans have not been able to go it alone. At the same time, I think we are interested in maximizing the participation by the Europeans as this problem in Europe is addressed in the future beyond the current SFOR mission.
Q Did you say he will not ask for an extension -- an extension of U.S. forces as now composed?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has made no decisions about what the United States role should be in any projected international presence beyond June of 1998, nor has the international community or NATO specifically, made any judgments about what will continue beyond the current exploration of the stabilization force in Bosnia. So there's no decision to convey to the leaders of Congress tonight. But there is a very strong desire on the part of the President as Commander in Chief to have the support of Congress and to ascertain their feelings as we think about and decide what we do in the future.
Q But he wants an open-ended option.
MR. MCCURRY: The President wants to have the opportunity to consult with Congress about how to make a decision that will be in the best interests of the American people. And this seems like a reasonable thing to do.
Q Why should the American people and the Congress believe in any new deadline that comes out of this --
MR. MCCURRY: Because we have met every deadline -- virtually every deadline set under the Dayton process we have achieved and met. Accomplishments I just said were sketched out in some of the original Dayton Accords . The elections have been held according to the timetables, and we've met those timetables. But the question of how you continue to build on the progress created by the Dayton Accords is a question that's an open question and, frankly, a new question that we have to address. But the President wants to address it in a fashion that will achieve support in Congress and achieve the support of the American people.
Q Does he think he'll have the support of Congress, for example, --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's why we're meeting with them tonight.
Q But what's the sense?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll know better after we meet with them.
Q Mike, do you know who is coming -- is it the leadership and chairs of the Foreign Relations --
MR. MCCURRY: A combination of leadership and people with committee jurisdiction, both sides, both aisles.
Q Will other subjects come up or just Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: I imagine the President will also take the opportunity to give them an update on where we are on Iraq and will probably thank those present that have been working hard on behalf of fast track authority. I expect those are the only other two subjects that might arise.
Q On Saturday, the President is going to give a -- I guess it's an unprecedented speech to a gay and lesbian organization. Given that Ellen DeGeneris will be there, given the criticism that Al Gore got on the same issue, what is the message that the President is taking by going there?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is going to go to this group of Americans who work, as other Americans do, to break down barriers and discrimination that have existed, facing members of their community and he's going to tell them that his goal as President is to bring us together to celebrate the diversity that is America and assure that people have the opportunity to rise to their God-given potential -- something the President talks about often. That's the message that he has carried before a host of different groups and it's the one that he intends to deliver Saturday night.
Q Is the President hoping to make entry by being the first one, or is this something he thinks is long overdue?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's not hoping to make history, he's hoping to bring people from different walks of life together so we can tackle the common problems that we face.
Q Do you expect as well as the President that the former Presidents down in College Station will all speak up on behalf of fast track?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that the President wants to take the occasion of the formal program itself to make that case, and I think he believes that the ceremony itself ought to be on behalf of President Bush. But I think the President is hoping that in and around the event, there is some opportunity for these Presidents who have used fast track authority themselves to open up markets, some opportunity for people to express themselves on the issue. But I doubt it will be during a ceremony that rightfully ought to be devoted on the legacy of George Bush.
Q How does the cloture vote in the Senate look today and the House vote on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: Looks good enough that they apparently are setting up an opportunity for the President to talk about it in a short while, so --
Q They are?
MR. MCCURRY: They being our friends at WHCA.
Q Where will that be?
MR. MCCURRY: It looks to me like unless there's something else going on I don't know about, they're putting it up out there in the Rose Garden. Did I just announce that we're going to say something after the vote? No, we didn't. Okay. Just to be clear.
Q Mike, can you tell us why the President decided to impose new economic sanctions against Sudan?
MR. MCCURRY: Because they continue to be a persistent source of terrorism in this world, state-sponsored terrorism, and by bringing these specific sanctions against the leadership authorities and others and by freezing their economic assets here in the United States, we hope that we can deter the type of wanton disregard for human life that's been associated with acts of terrorism sponsored by the government of Sudan, and beyond that, there's a briefing that's occurring right now at the State Department on the subject, and Secretary of State Albright has just had a press conference on the subject, so I won't add to what she said.
Q You just raised a subject that President Clinton hasn't talked about before. What does he think the legacy of George Bush is?
MR. MCCURRY: I have talked about it before and I've suggested several things -- one, the spirit that he kindled in this country is service to community, service to nation is unmistakable, and it's one the President has built upon and secondly, we've spent a large part of this briefing talking about the important leadership role the United States plays in the Gulf region and President Bush successfully prosecuted a war that made clear that we would continue to be a force for stability and peace in that region -- among others. And the President will have much more than that to say on Thursday.
Q One question we've asked you before and never gotten anything out of you -- does he think that he made -- deficit reduction?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he surely did set in motion economic policies that we, in part, built upon. But when he left office, we had a projected deficit of $297 billion, and we've now erased 80 percent of that on our way to erasing all of that, so I think you have to give credit to the Democratic Congress in 1993 that set us on a path of deficit reduction. I know that there are some in Congress that try to make that argument, but remember the Speaker of the House, the current Republican leaders all bolted on President George Bush when it came to that 1990 deficit reduction effort. So it's surely safe to say that President Bush would not have been able to achieve whatever he was able to accomplish in the area of fiscal policy had it not been for the support of the Democratic Congress.
Q Mike, the President has launched a year-long dialogue on race, and in connection with that has made clear his own policy objectives of diversity and affirmative action in trying to enlist national participation, national support for that agenda. Is the Supreme Court getting to be a bit of an obstacle?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe the Supreme Court speaks publicly other than in the rendering of opinions to any of those issues. So I don't see how it could be an obstacle. They have presented interpretations of constitutional law that this administration has to live with and has to execute. And we do that fairly. The Court has done nothing to abolish affirmative action or to remove it as a tool available to correct injustice and discrimination. It is only suggested that that tool should be narrowly tailored and the circumstances in which it is used by government ought to be strictly scrutinized. That's the test that's put forth in Adarand and this administration has fully complied with that -- is in the process of fully complying with that test.
Q But yesterday the Court went even a step further and allowed an entire circuit --
MR. MCCURRY: The Court refused to hear a case that we'll know -- likely be litigated further in the future. I don't know what you can read from a silent Court that just refused to take one particular case. I wouldn't over-interpret.
Q But when you have as compelling an issue as race in this country, doesn't even silence by one of the three branches hurt the kind of effort the President --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have been far from silent, Leo. They have rendered numerous opinions that this administration has had to live with that reflects this current Court's interpretation. One might argue differently, and we have in court sometimes argued differently, but one lives with the interpretations that the Court renders on law and continues to administer and execute law consistent with the deeply-felt principles that this President and this administration has on questions of racial injustice.
Q I guess my shorthand question to you is, do you feel that the Court and the President are going in different directions on race in this country?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they go their separate courses.
Q Mike, will there be a veto threat letter today on an antigun provision in an appropriations bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I heard something related to that, but I don't know enough about it to answer that authoritatively. You might want to check here after.
Q Have you confirmed that you are leaving the White House and Mr. Bowles also --
MR. MCCURRY: That Mr. Bowles is going to take my place? No, I'm not confirming that.
Q Are you taking Mr. Bowles' place?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q What are you confirming?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not confirming anything.
Q Is Bowles leaving?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't talk about personnel matters here. I don't talk about your personnel situation; I ask that you not talk about mine.
Q Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's not --
Q Do you know anything about ours? Could you fill us in? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You're looking good, Plante. That contract renewal, looking good. Wolf, being sought by some of the other networks. Front row here, doing okay so far. Ratings up. (Laughter.) Cochran in here. What could that mean? Maybe? Hmm? History. He hadn't been around. (Laughter.)
Let's not walk down that road, ladies and gentlemen.
Q Are you worried?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not worried, no. I have a bright and happy future.
What else? Good-bye. See you tomorrow.
Q Does that mean you're leaving? (Laughter).
MR. MCCURRY: That might be a correct interpretation.
END 1:53 P.M. EST