THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you to Secretaries Daley and Herman for their help; and for Gene, who had to leave early. I think that helps you on the trade adjustment package. Any other subjects today that would be of note?
Q Mike, the U-2 flight cancelled this week against the wishes of the United States -- isn't that just the kind of concession Saddam Hussein was looking for in the standoff?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt very much that that will be a meaningful concession to him, given that flights will resume under the auspices of the United Nations, and that he full well knows there are additional ways in which a community of nations that are pursuing U.N. resolutions obtain the information we need to continue to effectively monitor his activities. So I don't know that it will have any particular meaning to him one way or another.
Q How did the U.N. and the U.S. get out of sync on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we were out of sync. You heard the President address this earlier. I think there is a willingness to give the Chairman of the U.S. Sanctions Committee some leeway as he pursues what we hope will be a diplomatic resolution of this matter, which would be preferable to other resolutions.
Q Is Bill Richardson here and is he seeing the President?
MR. MCCURRY: He was down this morning, and I didn't know whether he was going back up to New York, but I believe he is down here. He's been actively -- among the President's advisors, he's been very actively engaged in briefing us about the situation in New York.
Q And when the inspectors -- or the U.N. officials who are meeting with Saddam's leadership meet today, how does the President hear back? Will he be in touch with --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll probably get some general sense of how those discussions go. But a formal presentation, if I understand correctly, will be made to the Security Council no sooner than Monday.
Q It looks, Mike, like the United States is going along with a concession to Iraq at a time when the U.S. said there would be no concessions and no negotiations.
MR. MCCURRY: I've already addressed that. It's not a concession to -- look, we give a window of time -- when the United Nations flies these missions, a window of time is provided for the conduct of the flight. They made an adjustment here at the recommendation and judgment of Chairman Butler. We accept his judgment. The flight, as Butler has said and as the President indicated to you, the flights continue next week. So I don't know that we attach great significance to it.
Q Mike, the President was asked in his photo op about this impeachment move by Barr and some other conservatives. Is this on the radar screen of the White House Counsel's Office? What's the level of interest in this --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, there's not any attention being paid to that here. In any body of 535 people, there will always be a denominator that's lowest. We've seen this from Barr before. Every time things get a little quiet on the inquiry front, he pops off about impeachment to get you all excited, and it's been a pattern like that and we don't pay it any attention whatsoever.
Q How do you think the testing compromise the President worked out today affects the atmosphere for fast track?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are attempting to work at, to be correct. There are still details that we are pursuing. But I think the President felt it was important to acknowledge some of the things that Congressman Goodling has said, that he's heard from others in the Republican Caucus about the value that ought to be attached to efforts at the state level to pursue education reform. And the President wanted to be accommodating on that point. We're interested, as we try to wind up this session, in reaching bipartisan accommodation so we can make progress. That's better than ending the session on a note of gridlock.
Q But do you think these two things are completely separate, or do you think that this helps the atmosphere for getting other --
MR. MCCURRY: They're not directly linked, but there may be -- there's a psychology that takes over at the end of a session of Congress in which, if you're making progress and people are being accommodating and working together to get things done, you can do good things. We saw that last summer as the session wound up and we achieved some truly significant progress on welfare reform, on health care, on other issues. And we want to end this session in that same fashion.
Q On the testing issue, the President said he had reached an agreement in principle. Can you just explain "in principle" conceptually, what this agreement entails?
MR. MCCURRY: In principle, what the President suggested to you earlier is that it's going to be possible to measure children's educational performance to a uniform standard without undermining the efforts that are now going on in states if they actually measure progress on math and reading skills at that same level in a way that's consistent with what we're trying to attempt at a national level. That's the central principle.
Q Would that then lead to a multiplicity of tests, that the Department Education here somehow would give its stamp of approval to Test B instead of Test A for 4th grade reading or 8th grade math?
MR. MCCURRY: It would recognize if they measure up to the standards that are being tested in the national test developed. If the states have a test that evaluates those same standards, it would recognize the value that should be attached to the testing at the state levels. That's in concept what's being developed, but there are a number of details that are still being worked out at this hour.
Q Would that, though, present any difficulty in terms of getting national results? One of the objectives of the President's program all along has been not just to have local communities know whether Johnny can read, but that the nation as a whole can know how all American kids stack up? And if you're going to have a proliferation of tests, is that going to muddy the statistical waters?
MR. MCCURRY: Not so long as a uniform national standard is evaluated, and that's what they are looking for now. The development of tests at the local level could still measure the same skills and objective criteria that a national test would measure. And the issue is how do you make sure that they are congruent, and that's one of the things that we are exploring at the staff level right now.
Q Mike, one of the things that Republicans say who have been briefed on this by Goodling today is that the President agreed that no tests would go forward, not even in a test marketing or pilot program, until Congress votes again to allow them to go forward. And I thought that was the very thing you guys objected to when this compromise was discussed earlier.
MR. MCCURRY: That is not exactly right, but I'm going to wait until we've got something that -- an agreement in principle is not the same thing as having a deal that we can present in legislative language that can be enacted upon by Congress. And until we get to that point, I just don't think I want to get too deeply into the details, because they're being worked on right now and I don't want to screw up the prospect of getting a bipartisan agreement that would truly be significant. It would represent from the President's point of view the achievement of something he has devoted enormous energy to this year, and I think it would acknowledge that the Republicans have got some perspectives on this that ought to be codified in legislative language.
And so that's what we're working towards, and until we get there, I'm not going to talk about it further.
Q Just to follow up on a question earlier about the Sperling trade package, how far do you think that goes toward addressing Democratic concerns about the fast track authority? And what other packages or inducements do you feel are ready that you have to offer to get over the top?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it was important to address that question of worker dislocation and how the administration would define dealing with that problem. And as you heard Secretary Herman say, there were some things being worked on that could be put together that I think will be reassuring to some members. I suspect you'll hear even later today that this has been compelling enough to some members that they are willing not to declare their intentions for the vote on Friday. But, ultimately, we'll know a lot better Friday.
Q Is he going to talk about trade tomorrow at the Bush library?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't expect during the ceremony itself that he will address that subject unless he just generally compliments the former President on the work that he did personally to open markets overseas for U.S. goods and services. But the President really intends his own remarks, which will be short by design, since everyone is speaking for a fairly short period of time, he intends that to be a tribute to the legacy of George Bush.
Now, in and around the event tomorrow, there may be an opportunity for President Clinton and maybe some of the other Presidents to address that issue on the eve of the vote, but we'll just have to see how that unfolds.
Q Mike, does the administration feel it might have prevailed on the U-2 issue if Richardson had been at the U.N. instead of on Capitol Hill pitching fast track?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe he was at the U.N.; I'd have to go back and check on his whereabouts. I think he was at the United Nations. I don't think that's a question that arises.
Q On election questions, is the President distressed at all that Virginia voters did buy into the car tax issue, and what's his general reaction of going 0 for 4 in the races that he was involved in, in the last week?
MR. MCCURRY: The President provided his election analysis earlier.
Q The President's speech on Saturday for the Human Rights Campaign -- can you characterize how the President's comfort level or feeling about issues surrounding sexual orientation has changed since he was inaugurated?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that it's changed so much. I think he's always had comfort around Americans of diverse backgrounds and has worked hard to try to bring Americans from diverse backgrounds together so we can tackle common problems. Otherwise, as far as the speech itself, I think as I told you yesterday, it's one that will be consistent with a theme he has articulated regularly, which is, we have to find ways of getting communities working together to address common problems.
Q But have there been any changes in either views toward the military or views toward marriage or other family issues?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Why is he doing this now instead --
MR. MCCURRY: They're having their --
Q No, no, instead -- he's had many years to go to this group that supported him pretty strongly.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that it's ever worked out in scheduling -- I'd have to go back and check to see if there was any particular reason why we didn't do it, other than just scheduling conflicts in the past.
Q Senator Moynihan today proposed a bill requiring federal agencies to take a more proactive stance in opening up records pertaining to Nazi war crimes and the U.S. government's knowledge of Nazi war criminals. Do you anticipate the President supporting such a measure?
MR. MCCURRY: We're sort of ahead of that legislation by the work that Stu Eisenstadt did in really pulsing our own government records and making available publicly what we have and continue to encourage government agencies to come forth. So I think we're a little bit ahead of Senator Moynihan on that, having already done a lot of that work and having really reported through the Office of Historian at the State Department on those documents available to us in our own records that would shed light on the issue.
Q Is the Bill Lann Lee nomination doomed, or would the President consider a recess appointment?
MR. MCCURRY: It is not doomed. The President is working hard to see if we can't confirm him before the Congress retires for the year, and that's the only focus of the administration's work at the moment, which is seeing if we can't achieve confirmation.
Q Any thought of a recess appointment?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I just answered that.
Q Mike, back on the elections, in almost every one of the major races yesterday, Republicans outspent the Democrats, and the Republicans won a great deal of those races. Are you concerned, is there concern out there that the continued advantage of fundraising by the Republicans is going to carry over into next year's elections?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the advantage the Republicans have in fundraising is historic. It has always been a fact of life for Democrats running contested races that we are outspent by the other side. I think our concern, though, has been that there seems to be a calculated effort on the part of the Republican Party to tie up the Democratic National Committee and tie up a lot of its funding and legal procedures and in lawyer's fees so that money would not be available for campaign activity. And that is a source of real concern to us and we're going to have to be aggressive in challenging that kind of thinking next year to make sure we have resources to run competitive campaigns. But we will always be outraised and outspent. They're better at raising soft money, they raise a lot more of it, which is why the Republican Party collectively is against abolishing soft money.
Q Are you saying that other than the historical disadvantage the Democrats have and lawyers' fees, those are the only two reasons for the shortfall?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are lots of reasons historically why the Republicans have outraised Democrats. They just have access to -- greater access to people and entities with wealth.
Q No, I'm asking in terms of your current problems with raising money. Are you saying that legal fees are the reason?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I said there are a range of reasons, and they are partly historic, but also partly impacted by legal proceedings.
Q Getting back to the elections, in Houston, for the record, there was a defeat earlier this week to -- affirmative action. What is the White House's thought today on what happened in Houston yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President addressed that earlier. He was gratified and encouraged by the results in Houston. They suggested there are different ways of thinking about the issue of race, and specifically, the issue of affirmative action.
Q Is the President wearing his hearing aides yet?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't checked -- I don't know the answer to that. I'd have to check.
Q Can you shed some light on why Erskine Bowles was in such a tearing hurry to yank Gene Sperling out of the briefing?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because he had an appointment on the Hill, and we are not in the business of offending members of Congress at this particular hour. Erskine was a little more interested in having him on the Hill than having him here with you, and it was obviously related to Gene's capacity for explaining some of the steps we took today connected to fast track.
Q Who was the appointment with?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to say. Mostly because I don't know. (Laughter.) But even if I knew, I don't think I'd be inclined to say because we've got people, we have members -- you're going to see, probably, shuttle buses back and forth from the Hill today with members of Congress coming here --
Q How many members are -- do you know at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: A number, and I'm not going to identify them.
Q Mike, on the meeting last night on Bosnia, can you give a little readout on how that went?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we did that last night, but it was a very encouraging meeting. The President heard and listened very carefully to the responses that he made -- responses to the presentation that he made. He gave an analysis of the progress that we've made since the Dayton Accords were signed, the work that lies ahead in dealing with the problems that continue to exist in Bosnia, the importance of working together within the international community to define what our objectives are into the future as we support the transformation taking place in Bosnia, and then he made it very clear what criteria he would have in mind as he makes the decision of what our own contribution should be to any international presence that does exist beyond the expiration of the current SFOR mission.
He got very good responses around the table. It was a very constructive meeting. The President said it was an excellent discussion with not a lot of rhetoric, but a real probing discussion of what our responsibilities should be in Bosnia and how we can meet them. And I think as a result that the President was encouraged that this is a subject that will lend itself to bipartisan cooperation as we fashion the correct policies in the interest of the United States.
Q Did it change his thinking at all? Did his thinking change as a result?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he became far less pessimistic that there would be a lack of support for the work the United States is doing in Bosnia.
Q Is that why Madeleine Albright just said there seems to be consensus now for extending the presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: I think she was giving her own sense of what -- I mean, it was her analysis of the room. I don't think it would be fair to say that there is any consensus now. I think what was clear at the meeting was that there is the prospect the President could build that consensus with hard work. A number of members suggested the President is going to have to make this argument very clear to the American people over time and the President certainly believes that that's true. But again, we've got to concentrate, as the President often says, on the work we're doing today that makes the future a lot easier to define once you get there.
Q Does that mean there is a consensus emerging or you're going to build a consensus?
MR. MCCURRY: We clearly have to build it. It's not there now, and I think those of you that had an opportunity to talk to Senator McCain, who has been one of the most thoughtful voices in Congress and one of the most skeptical voices in Congress about our presence in Bosnia, made it quite clear that there is a lot of work that lies ahead. But I think the spirit of the discussion was very much along the lines of the discussion he had with some of you last night.
Q Mike, I wonder if you can tell what are the principal issues that President Clinton is going to discuss with the President of Mexico next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll do that next week. Right now, I can tell you that they will be the issues that are always a part of our bilateral agenda that reflect the close cooperation we have as we deal with issues related to the border, related to the environment, related to immigration, related to the trafficking of drugs -- all of those things that we work so well and together on. But there will also be an opportunity to look beyond the issues that are always part of our binational relationship and make them talk a little bit about larger global issues that we work on together.
I'll be able to do a lot more on this next week, after I actually figure out what it is we are talking about. (Laughter.)
Q Back on Iraq, whether or not you view the U-2 decision as a concession, the U.S. hasn't always been so eager to let the U.N. take the lead in dealing with Iraq. Can you explain why in this situation the United States is so eager to go along with the crowd?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because we have, after some cracks in the armor, we have reconstituted a strong consensus in the Security Council about how to deal with matters related to Iraq. And it makes no sense for the United States to unilaterally jeopardize that consensus at a time when the entire world community seems to be on the same page addressing the provocations that Saddam Hussein is posing. There's great value in holding together the elements of that coalition that successfully prosecuted a war and that continued to bring pressure to bear on Saddam Hussein.
And I think it's very wise for the United States to work cooperatively with the international community at a time when we can reach for the common objectives we share, recognizing that at any point where the President feels that our interests are not sufficiently attended to by the world community, we'll have to go it alone. That's the reality of U.S. leadership in this world, in this era. And the successful way to try to prosecute our aims and objectives are working with others when we can. But there are times, of course, when we must go it alone, and we're prepared to do that, as well.
Enough said. Good-bye.
Q How many people is the President meeting with this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: Lots.
Q Can you give us a guesstimate?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We'll see. We'll see. I thought he was already --
Q Will you announce who they are before they show up?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q How long will the meetings go on?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we're trying to wrestle this thing to a conclusion. We're not there yet, we're short. And we're going to go after a lot of votes, and people may not want to be pestered by all of you if they want to take some time to think about it. If they want to tell you that they're down here and meeting with the President, that's up to them.
Q Yes, but you could tell us numbers without naming.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know at this point. We don't know exactly how many.
Q How many were invited -- can you tell us that?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got 12 to 15, or something like that, right? What would you say, 12 to 15, in that neighborhood. It may grow.
Q And these are all undecided Democrats we assume.
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't assume anything.
Q Mike, back to the Houston ballot measure, do you or the President or the White House see any significance in the wording of that measure, that when, as I understand it, initially it was going to be a kind of a mini 209, and then the wording was changed to, say, shall Houston abolish its affirmative action programs, and the people in Houston said no. Do you reach a conclusion that if you frame the issue, are you for or against some affirmative action, then you do get support; but if you frame it like what Connolly or what Pete Wilson in California, that the state should not discriminate on the basis of race, you lose the argument?
MR. MCCURRY: I think you're correct in how you frame the question can affect the answer. It is not unlike polling in that respect, and great care and attention was placed by the Mayor in the correct phrasing of the question, so that the verdict rendered is one that makes clear the sentiments of the people of Houston.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:08 P.M. EST