THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:24 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Any other subjects today, ladies and gentlemen, on this Friday, when it's raining in Washington and things look gloomy, but we anticipate the skies brightening and the sun shining by the weekend.
Q Before we get into other matters, would you like to comment on --
MR. MCCURRY: Weather every eight minutes.
Q Would you like to comment on Judge Ware?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I don't know enough about it to comment on it.
Q Nothing to say?
MR. MCCURRY: I think you saw -- some of you saw White House Legal Counsel Chuck Ruff quoted, and I think that stands as the reaction here at the White House. It's a very sad story.
Q Mike, the President has going to attend the dinner for the Human Rights Campaign this weekend --
MR. MCCURRY: He is?
Q What is the message the President is trying to send by, at this point, attending, when he hasn't --
MR. MCCURRY: Did we get a question just now on whether -- someone told me, and I can run this down for you, that he had not been invited to the dinner in the past. In any event, he had not gone for any number of reasons. He looks forward to going this year. And the reason he wants to go is because he is reaching out to a wide variety of communities in this country, getting people to recognize that diversity is part of America's strength, and getting people to think about how they can work together to solve common problems.
The President has done literally dozens of community outreach events this year. He was just at the National Italian American Foundation Dinner last week. But he has reached out to a variety of communities, has gotten people to think about, as they celebrate their own community and their own work that they do together, how they can reach out to other groups and work on common problems. And I think that's the message he will send.
He will also -- I anticipate he will take the opportunity Saturday night to make a very vigorous appeal to the United States Senate to confirm his nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Bill Lan Lee, and make the case that Bill Lee is the kind of person who will enforce civil rights laws that are on the books; that's what the executive branch does. And it's important to fill that position with someone with the talent, expertise, and personal qualities that Bill Lee would bring to the job.
Q What you're saying is that this is not really all that special; it's equivalent to the Italian American dinner?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying it's significant to that community that he is coming to meet with them and to celebrate with them. And I think that that speaks for itself. But I just want to put this in the context of all the work the President has done this year to reach out to a variety of communities and bring people together so they can think about what they share in common as one America. That's been a constant theme of the President's this year.
Q Mike, what is the White House's understanding about why the fast track vote has been delayed? Is it because you don't have the votes?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that would be a pretty good guess, wouldn't it? (Laughter.)
Q You're spinning less than some people on the Hill.
MR. MCCURRY: There's a little bit more to it than that. Last night, in our consultations with the Speaker's Office, we came to learn that the way the rule for consideration of fast track today was constructed would make out of order some amendments that we think are going to be very necessary to round up the votes on our side of the equation that are necessary for passage. So we clearly had a rules problem that needed to be addressed.
And we are continuing to work hard to get votes. We clearly don't have the magic number yet. The President's already had four individual meetings with members of Congress today and he has moved some people from the "no" column to the "yes" column. And I anticipate he'll have about five or six more meetings during the course of the day. All by way of saying that it was much to our advantage not to have the vote today and probably to our advantage to have it over the weekend.
Q He moved people from "no" to "yes" as a result of meetings held today?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q Is this a good chance for Democrats on the Hill to get some good pork projects that the President has long denied them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President indicated to you last night that when we can honorably address questions raised by members of Congress, we attempt to do so. I think I'll leave it at that.
Q Mike, to what extent does the President risk splitting --
MR. MCCURRY: That was another way of saying, you know that debate about what we were going to do with the budget surplus -- I think that's all been settled now. (Laughter.)
Q To what extent is he risking splitting his own party, not just fast track itself, but through some of the deals that he's making. A number of the liberals have been lining up this afternoon in the House gallery complaining that he's cutting deals on abortion, on census, and other issues that they're very concerned about.
MR. MCCURRY: We're at the end of a session and dealing with a Republican Congress and trying to amicably bring to resolution a number of issues on a number of fronts. That's true every time we come to the end of a session or right before a period of recess.
But let me back up for a second, because you said something that's wrong. This issue does not split the Democratic Party. Remember, a majority of Democrat senators supported the vote on cloture for fast track, thus supporting fast track.
And around this country, if you look at the local level, state, governors, mayors, people in this party who live in communities that have become increasingly dependent on exports and on trade as a necessary ingredient of their own livelihood support America's engagement in this world economy. So it does not split the Democratic Party. It has some opponents in the House Democratic Caucus. But I would suggest they have isolated themselves from where the majority of the Democratic Party is nationally.
Q On this delay, is Gingrich going to give you the is the rules committee going to give you the change? And what are the amendments that you need to pass?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not an expert on all the amendments. There are some that are in the agricultural area. Remember, we've talked about how important it is to assure rural communities that they will be able to share in the benefit of free and open trade. There are several pending amendments in that area. Apparently, there's also an amendment that draws the connection between economic security and national security that's very important, and apparently would have been out of order had not the rules change been effected. So they're working now, as I understand it, to gain the necessary rules so that those amendments will be in order.
Q We won't get a Saturday vote then?
Q What about child labor -- that this Democrat from Iowa wants on child labor?
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check on the Hill. My understanding was that that had been -- that that amendment had been in order, but I'd have to go back and double-check that. People on the Hill could probably tell you more.
Q Mike, you've talked about -- the President has talked about what he's open to on testing and you've talked about the census. But what about abortion? What is he open to doing there?
MR. MCCURRY: We are having the same conversation we have had in the past about what our view of international family planning funding should be. This is not really an abortion issue because we do not use any form of our section -- of our Function 150 funding for abortion. This is related to the international family planning activities. And there's been an ongoing debate with Congress about this. We have in the past found a way to bridge what are clear differences between the administration and some elements of Congress and we're attempting to do so again.
Q Is there anything that you've said is not negotiable, that's not on the table for discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: There are -- yes. I mean, there have been, in our consultations, things that have been suggested would be helpful and we've just said, look, that's not in the realm of the possible. So we have taken some things off the table. But we have tried to be accommodating in hearing the concerns that individual members have expressed. And we're trying to operate in an environment that recognizes that the Republican leadership are trying to get some things for their caucus that will make them feel good about the end of this session. I mean, that's the political reality. They need to go home happy. And so we're trying to see what we can do to make them happy. But there's only so far that we can go.
Q What can you do to make reluctant Democrats happy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been talking with them, addressing their concerns. You've heard the President here talk about some of the things that we've done to address the concerns that they have raised. He keeps pointing out to you that this Congressional observer thing has been apparently a very useful contribution to the debate. The trade adjustment assistance package that we announced at mid-week has been very helpful. So we've -- you've already seen that. That's all been transparent.
Q Mike, what do you say to the critic -- the proponents of fast track who say the White House waited too long, did not take this seriously, should have pushed harder, should have had this in the bag a long time ago?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know, they said that about NAFTA, they say that about every fight. The reality is, in Congress and with the schedule that they've had and given the work that we've done this year, we always knew it would come to a final period of crunch where we'd have to go out and make the case. And that's always the case on these close votes that are hotly contested; you really have to do your work as you get right up to the closing hours. And that's where we are now and where we always expected that we would be.
Q Mike, are there any circumstances under which the United States would slow down a visa for Tariq Aziz?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that we've already granted that visa, so it's a moot point.
Q Mike, how strongly does the President feel about the issue of assisted suicide? There are some reports that the administration is considering blocking the Oregon law that was --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check into that. We have taken some position in the litigation, if I'm not mistaken. But the Justice Department might be able to help you with that.
Q A senior Pentagon official said today that any attempt to shoot down a U-2 plane would be considered an act of war and would be met with a military response. Does the White House agree with that position?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's already made clear that anything like that would be a grave mistake.
Q He said a "big mistake," actually. But the question is, an act of war. Is that the way the White House would consider it? This person didn't want his name or her name attached it.
MR. MCCURRY: I am not an international lawyer, but it's easy to understand the consequences that would arise from an act of that nature.
Q Can you give us an idea, Mike, of the level of the President's consultations on this? Has he scheduled now regular meetings or is he just getting updates from Sandy Berger?
MR. MCCURRY: He's talked on an off to his national security advisers. He's obviously been briefed at each step of the way, by Mr. Berger in particular. The President's national security advisers have been meeting almost regularly to assess options and to understand better what we're learning from the United Nations.
The United Nations will get a report from the delegation that has just been to Iraq on Monday, and we will follow that presentation very closely. And I'm sure the President will obviously have some sense of that as it develops over the weekend. But he has clearly been very directly engaged in monitoring what we're learning and assessing what options arise as a result.
Q Mike, he keeps saying that he sees no weakening on the part of allies in the U.N. itself. To what extent has he been consulting directly himself with other world leaders? Has he spoken with anyone?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that he has directly consulted, but he has been getting good reports from the Secretary of State, who has been doing a fair amount of direct consultation herself.
Q Do you expect him to be on the phone in the next couple of days with any of his counterparts?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out next week, but let's see how things develop. And of course we'll first assess what the nature of the conversations are at the Security Council.
Q Mike, after the presentation Monday, would you foresee some sort of further statement from the Security Council, or even another resolution reminding Saddam what he must do? Is that the next step in this process?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to predict how the Security Council will address that matter. They are seized of it and they are most likely going to be in a position to say more Monday, but we will have our own deliberations here as they assess the report of the delegation and as we assess what options arise as a result of that report.
Q Mike, to what extent would the United States entertain Iraqi suggestions for changes in the control regime?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's up to the United Nations Sanctions Committee to determine what it needs in order to accomplish the purpose of the work described in relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. It's not the place of Iraq to suggest how that monitoring scheme should work. That is the judgment that must be made by the professionals who work for UNSCOM.
Q But would the United States be interested at all in hearing about Iraqi suggestions for changes? Is there any flexibility in the United States' position?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a United Nations question and I haven't heard any indication that the United Nation is entertaining that kind of discussion.
Q There are reports that Russia, France, and Egypt all oppose military action against Iraq, despite the fact that they agree what Iraq is doing is wrong. Are those reports accurate, in your opinion?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's accurate to say that those governments strongly support the effort by the Security Council and made clear to Saddam Hussein that he is responsible for implementation of relevant resolutions. There is unanimity of opinion of the part of the Security Council that the current course of action by Saddam Hussein is unacceptable.
Q But, Mike, there's not unanimity about what would happen if this continues. And just to follow up on Peter's question --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the discussion hasn't unfolded yet about what should happen, pending the report of the delegation. So I don't know how you can make that judgment at this point.
Q But the other day you said that the U.S. is definitely seeing some cracks in the coalition. I'm just wondering if he's not --
MR. MCCURRY: We had seen them and the consequence of this woe-begotten act by Saddam Hussein is to have once again united this coalition, which is a favorable thing.
Q Now you're saying there are no more cracks.
MR. MCCURRY: On the question of the unacceptability of this current provocation by Saddam and the necessity of dealing with it very firmly, there is unanimity on the part of the Security Council, we believe.
Q Just to follow up on that, Chirac said this morning in London that France is opposed to what they call brutal methods, in particular the use of force and sanctions. How do you reconcile that with what the President said this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: That's been the long-stated French view.
Q But you said to Peter that he's not calling other leaders. What is he doing to make sure that there's going to be a united coalition behind whatever the U.S. does decide?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has addressed himself to it and that has weight in and of itself, but we've also been making strong presentations and consulting closely within the councils of the United Nations and then in direct exchanges we've had through high- level diplomacy.
Q How long is the President willing to wait?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a question of how long the President waits, it's how soon will the United Nations Security Council take up the issue and deal with it appropriately. That's the real question.
Q So he won't act before the U.N. does?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I've made that pretty clear already.
Q When will American U-2 flights start again?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go into operational details, and I wouldn't make the assumption that they have been suspended.
Q Different subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Different subject.
Q How does the President feel about the Republican plan to send out questionnaires with tax forms about how people view the IRS and IRS reform?
MR. MCCURRY: It's great. They're going to spend $60 million to find out whether Americans like to pay taxes. (Laughter.) In an era of prudently managing resources, that's a hard one to figure out.
Now, we are interested in scientific sampling about how Americans feel a tax collection system can be improved. In fact, some of that work was done in connection with the Kerrey-Portman Commission. They did spend I think, what -- they spent thousands of dollars to get a good scientific survey of taxpayers to glean those kinds of opinions and it was valuable information. But to provide a survey instrument at that cost to learn whether or not Americans like paying taxes would be a little like asking them if the like -- asking a kid if he likes to clean up his room.
I'm not sure that it's a valuable expenditure of money. The effort, I think, in fairness to the Republicans, is designed to give Americans a way of having input into the reform process. And we think that is a good thing, but that's also structured now in the IRS reform legislation that the administration supports that passed overwhelmingly in the house and which the President believes the Senate should take up and pass. That would be something that would encourage citizens to use the avenues available through the advisory committees, through the ombudsman process to bring their concerns about the tax process into the system so they can be dealt with. That would seem to be a smarter way to go about the task.
We also want to make sure that this is not some political instrument. I mean, if Frank Luntz is going to design this poll, I think we would have some concerns about it.
Q Are you against it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think we want to try to direct it in a more appropriate direction, i.e., make it scientific, make it a legitimate survey, make it something that would be useful to policy-makers so that they can really incorporate the thinking of America into the reform necessary of the IRS.
Q Did I hear you say that you would not make the assumption that the U.S. U-2 reconnaissance flights have been suspended?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a lot of activity in that region, and you can talk to the Pentagon about it.
Q Mike, the education deal, as far as I understand it would give -- would have another vote in a year on authorization of the plan. Does the President worry that in another year his plan might be killed before it ever gets started and that kids will never be tested?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's truer to say that that gives us a year in which we can really demonstrate the utility of the testing methods that are designed and the process of setting standards and learn more about the activity that's been under way at the state and local level and how that can be used to get what we all want, which is a uniform way of measuring the performance of 4th graders and 8th graders across some set of national criteria that everyone understands, so that we get a good, honest appraisal of where we are.
We believe, of course, it would be better -- you know our idea, of course, was better, but we had to make some compromises in that area, and I think we've ended up in a place that assures us that the prospect of national standards and voluntary testing proceeds, and that that, of course, is something that we think is a good thing and not a bad thing.
Q It's not a disappointment, then, in the end?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean -- in a perfect world we would have gotten our plan as it was designed by the Secretary of Education and the President, but it's not a perfect world when you have a Republican Congress, to say the very least. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, I want to make sure I'm clear on something. We asked you a minute ago whether there was any room for compromise with Saddam. You said, essentially, well, that's up to the U.N. That's seems to suggest that there's some flexibility in the U.S. view.
MR. MCCURRY: I did not say that. I said it's up to the United Nations Security Council to deal promptly with what is a very troubling report that has been submitted by Chairman Butler of UNSCOM and what appears to be a very troubling report we're going to get from the delegation that was just there. That is quite a different thing.
Q Barry McCaffrey is suggesting he will challenge the Defense Department's request for money for drug trafficking. Could you comment on that?
MR. MCCURRY: That was an interesting episode, but -- our only comment from over here today on that would be there's an OMB review process that will occur in which the concerns of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Pentagon can be resolved. And that will be done quietly, and done smartly, and done patiently, and done not in the Washington Post. (Laughter.)
Q You mentioned that the President is likely to talk about Mr. Lee's nomination tomorrow night. Can you preview some other elements to the speech? Is he going to talk specifically about legislative issues like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act? Will he address his position on gay marriage?
MR. MCCURRY: I would imagine, of those two, that the former is a likely topic. I think the latter is probably not. But he will have some -- he'll talk with some specificity about that. I think discrimination generally and employment-related issues and how different communities approach that at a time in which there is a need to bring Americans together and the need for effective enforcement of civil rights laws that are on the books will be a theme of the speech.
Q Did he say anything about the selection of his presidential library site -- "he" being the President?
MR. MCCURRY: He didn't say to me. I know Skip Rutherford put out a note saying that they had picked one of those two sites that the President saw when he was in Little Rock. At the time -- he has not said anything to me today -- I know at the time, both the President and the First Lady were very impressed that that site that's on the Little Rock side of the river, did connect in a better way with some of the activity in the downtown area and the convention center. And so it was -- they seemed to have a preference for that. But the recommendation, as Mr. Rutherford has indicated, was evaluated by the advisory group that they had.
Q Is the President -- are you putting out anything on that, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but there is a release from Mr. Rutherford that's available.
Q I'm aware of that. No, I mean his words -- anything from him.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I mean, I can't --
Q Do you have any comment on the David Johnson vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I mean, that is a hallmark of the fine work being done by this Senate, that they have elevated to ambassadorial status someone of such proven ability, expertise, and wisdom, and also creates, I believe, something of a precedent that says that those who have effectively served in the White House Press Office -- (laughter) -- are the kind of people who ought to be thought of as sort of ambassadors -- (laughter) -- extraordinaire and plenipotentiary. I think that's a very wise thing.
And, while we're on the subject, I was -- (laughter) -- noting that of course President Yeltsin's former spokesman is now the National Security Advisor. (Laughter.) The subject did not go unnoticed by Mr. Berger. (Laughter.) And, I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that someone that I think highly of who was here on a visit recently, who's a spokesman in one part of the Chinese government may have an ambassadorial appointment in his future. So these things globally -- (laughter) -- indicate a trend that is worthy to consider.
Q What do you like?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not an ambassadorial post, but Bermuda has always been very -- (laughter) -- particularly now that we can't give those away to our fat cat contributors, you know? Why not? (Laughter.)
Q Back to assisted suicide for a moment, could you elaborate --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that would be -- you just saw one -- (laughter).
Q Could you elaborate on the President's feelings about the Oregon ballot measure and, again, any plans he may have to deal with that?
MR. MCCURRY: I would want to check with him on that. I have not talked to him personally about it and it's a subject that I would want to check further on before I comment on it. We have had -- as I said, we have made some public statements on that -- maybe we can get some of those from the office.
MR. LOCKHART: Filed in the Supreme Court case.
MR. MCCURRY: I know his personal view has been expressed and was expressed during both the 1992 campaign and as he's been President, of course, he has indicated his opposition to assisted suicide. But I would want to check further on the particular ballot measure in Oregon.
Q Do you see this delay on fast track as a one-shot deal and, if not, if there's another delay --
MR. MCCURRY: Congress has got to go home sooner or later, so I don't know that there's much more delay that's available.
Q Are you looking for Sunday, or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I'm just looking to the Speaker's Office for guidance on when they think the vote might be. They can be in a better position to let you know.
Q This is your last -- this vote this weekend is the last shot?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't predict the calendar in the House, but I believe they are winding things up, is accurate to say. And they clearly are in the closing hours of this session.
Q But, Mike, would you want a vote even if you know you're going to lose?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I've -- we're not thinking so gloomily. We are actually working hard and seeing if we can't get to the point where we have some assurance that we can win the vote.
Q Would you agree with Gingrich that you're 15 votes short?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we have -- we're working closely with him and we've got our own assessment. But as I just indicated to you, whatever the count was, it's changing minute by minute and it's moving in our direction.
Q Back to the speech the President is giving tomorrow night. Do you know if he'll mention Ellen's now-famous show about coming out or whether he's going to avoid it because of how contentious it is?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate that being part of his remarks tomorrow night. And he will be -- if I'm not mistaken, he will actually be -- he goes to the beginning of the dinner and speaks. He will leave before that part of the program, if I understand correctly.
MR. MCCURRY: He's got other things he's doing tomorrow night.
Q Why wouldn't he mention it if the Vice President found it significant?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's a subject -- that's not an area that he wants to particularly highlight tomorrow night. He wants to talk more about the things I've already indicated to you, how you bring people together to work on problems that all communities face and the contributions that the gay and lesbian community in particular can make to the kind of work the President has been pursuing.
Q Why wouldn't he want to echo what Al Gore said?
MR. MCCURRY: Al Gore said what Al Gore said, and the President's going to say what he wants to say, and they don't always speak in unison, although maybe at times it seems like that.
Q No, it doesn't. (Laughter.)
Q Details of the trip next weekend, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I can do the week ahead in a minute if we're done with other stuff.
Q Can you tell us about Togo West and why --
MR. MCCURRY: He's a great Secretary.
Q -- why you feel the need for a recess appointment?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- he's currently serving in splendid fashion. He's very highly thought of, and beyond that I don't have any other comment.
Week ahead. Let's see, what are we doing. Saturday night we've done; Sunday, the President will pay tribute to -- I should say Tim Russert, because that's probably the truth -- but it's really Meet The Press -- the 50th anniversary of Meet the Press. And on Monday we will have the White House Conference on Hate Crimes as indicated. On Tuesday, Veterans Day, the President will, as tradition holds, have a breakfast here with veterans and then attend ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. No events scheduled now for Wednesday; nothing specific at this point for Thursday, although the likelihood of something.
President Zedillo of Mexico is here for an official working visit on Friday, and then that afternoon the President departs for Las Vegas, a weekend trip to Nevada and California that we will describe to you further on Monday. The weekend will include a California event, probably on an environmental issue.
MR. MCCURRY: Mais oui.
MR. MCCURRY: Doesn't say anything here about that. Of course, they saw the First Daughter recently.
Coming back on Monday, the following Monday, the President will stop in Wichita where he will attend an event with the Welfare To Work Foundation, which is Eli Segal's group, the group that's been getting the private sector to really meet the challenge the President articulated to get people from welfare situations into work, and Eli's been doing a fabulous job in various communities on that theme. They've got a successful program at Cessna that they're going to be highlighting there, and there may be other events that day as well.
MR. MCCURRY: Don't know.
Q Back here, or --
MR. MCCURRY: There is a DNC dinner in St. Louis at some point, so we'll be going to St. Louis, right?
MR. TOIV: There may be another event somewhere between Kansas and Missouri.
MR. MCCURRY: Between Kansas and Missouri?
MR. TOIV: Well, not literally between them, but including them.
Q Coming back Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: Coming back -- he comes back on Monday? We get back Monday night.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: Sounds like a trip that Barry's going to take. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Guess again, Boss.
MR. MCCURRY: Anything else? Yes?
Q Tomorrow's radio address subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Still undetermined, but given the developments, possibly another pitch for fast track. But there is another subject kicking around, too, and we'll have to let you know. He's taping sometime late this afternoon, correct? So we'll have the embargoed text out pretty soon. And that's a wrap for the week. Bye.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:03 P.M. EST