THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:33 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, here we go. Short and sweet. The President, after gobbling it up with the turkey, met with his budget advisers. As you recall, I told you that he would have a series of meetings to begin the planning process for the Fiscal Year 1999 budget submission, and he had another session today that looked at a lot of the different longer-term issues that are associated with writing the budget, and also focusing on some question of how we continue the strong path of fiscal discipline that we've developed that has brought us within sight of a balanced budget.
The President in a short moment or two will sign two bills, the Commerce, State, Justice appropriations bill, and the foreign appropriations bill. We'll have signing statements on both of those and I anticipate with that we will have the lid on. So we're looking at a lid in about an hour or so.
Q Have the prices on each of the bills -- do you have the money?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have that, but that will be -- whatever we have on that will be in the signing statement.
Q Are line item vetoes likely on either one?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, not to be announced today.
Q What is the status? Where does the budget stand?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that that's the completion of the regular appropriations bills, and with the exception of those that are --
Q No, I mean, the deliberations today.
Q For next year's.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, there are ongoing discussions the President is having with his economic and budget advisers related to budget issues that will emerge in fullness next March when we submit our budget.
And with that, we're done.
Q No, we're not. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, is the President giving any consideration to a recess appointment for Bill Lann Lee? Did he discuss it with Senator Lott last week?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been exploring that. I think he wants to know Mr. Lee's thinking. But he has not made any decision, nor have the staff prepared any final recommendation for him.
Q Did he discuss it with Senator Lott last week -- that possibility?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't generally brief on the subject matter of the President's discussions with the Majority Leader, but I cannot imagine that that subject did not come up.
Q Did he get -- has he gotten Mr. Lee's input yet? Has he had Mr. Lee's input yet?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not had the opportunity to receive a recommendation or a briefing from staff and he'll probably turn his attention to that matter beginning next week.
Q Mike, a lot of people are wondering, is the President going to be calling the Thompson family in the District, and if he is, why is it taking him so long?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he plans to. I think that he called the parents of the family that had the septuplets, which was, you know, an unprecedented occasion. Sextuplets have been born from time to time, and I think the President appreciates the good wishes of the community that's been expressing their support for the Thompson family.
Q They had septuplets naturally, and two passed away -- one stillborn and one died a little later on.
MR. MCCURRY: If I have anything further on that, I'll let you know.
Q What are the options he has on the recess appointment? I mean, what is the obstacle?
MR. MCCURRY: There's not an obstacle. Presidents have used that authority. In fact, President Clinton has used it less often than his immediate predecessors; it was fairly commonly used by President Reagan and has been used by all recent presidents. It is a constitutionally acknowledged way in which the President, in the absence of action by Congress, can fill key positions within our government. And his options are related to timing, when you could make such a recess appointment and what is the current status of the session of Congress sitting.
Q If he made it now, could it extend for the length of the President's term?
MR. MCCURRY: If I understand precedent and law correctly, it extends until the conclusion of the sitting Congress -- congressional session in the year following -- I think is right. Someone can help you with that.
Q You risk alienating people on Capitol Hill, though, if you do that, don't you?
MR. MCCURRY: Some of them are mostly alien already when it comes to the President's viewpoints, but I think that it is a key post. The President feels this is a superb nominee. We've heard nothing but praise about this nominee. When Mr. Lee was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he received a very warm hearing, and the late-in-the-game opposition seems to be designed more to placate the hard right of the conservative movement. It doesn't have anything to do with the qualities of the nominee.
And I think what's really at issue here is that there is a portion of the United States Senate that wants to turn back the clock and reverse current law. The job of the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights is to enforce the law on the books. The problem that members of Senate have is the law on the books, so they ought to change the law on the books, but they should not stand in the way of a nominee who is superbly qualified and who the President has selected for a very important enforcement position in our government.
Q Do you mean to suggest that Mr. Lee might be having second thoughts on whether he wants the job under these circumstances?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just think that it would be far preferable, if possible, to see him confirmed, and that would certainly be our preference. So we want to assess what the possibility is that senators who are misguided in their opposition would be willing to relent and let Mr. Lee have the vote that he deserves.
Q Mike, on the Middle East, I want to revisit something on Netanyahu now that I can ask in the past tense -- did the White House snub Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Should he draw any conclusions from the fact that he did not have a meeting with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q The Israeli press is drawing a lot of conclusions that it's --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they report and analyze things as they see fit. We don't always share their analysis of things.
Q Where does it stand now?
MR. MCCURRY: They're attempting to work out a meeting. We expect that to be done soon.
Q The meeting will be soon, or the decision to have the meeting will come soon?
MR. MCCURRY: We've made the decision to have the meeting. I think we're just working out timing. I expect that one will be arranged soon.
Q So you think he's going to come back to this country to meet with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: He travels here fairly regularly.
Q Mike, going into next week to the President's town hall meeting on race, this meeting has been much ballyhooed, but is it taking a back seat to fundraising because of the time that it's happening? It's happening from 11:00 to 12:00 instead of prime time where all America can see it and hear it. I mean, the fundraising event is that evening, and the --
MR. MCCURRY: No, it isn't. Anything else?
Q Are you trying to build up a war against Iraq? The constant drumbeat every day from Cohen and the op-ed pages and hearing it on TV.
MR. MCCURRY: Properly so, significant interest in the part of the press corps covering the Pentagon and many of you here and what the status of that issue is and the status of forces deployed in the region. I think they're doing a good job of trying to help those who want to learn more about the deployment.
Q You're not trying to drum up public sentiment in case you do happen to --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President wants to make sure that Americans understand the reason why we're there in the Gulf, what the stakes are, what the valuable work is that the United Nations Inspections Committee is doing there, the reasons why they are deploying there.
Q And he definitely thinks that the world is in danger of a germ warfare, biological warfare, chemical warfare attack?
MR. MCCURRY: Not only does the President believe that, but, by the reports that Mr. Butler has made to the U.N. Security Council and the Security Council itself, it's clear that the world community believes that, based on the assessments that have been given by the Security Council.
Q France and Russia don't seem to believe that.
MR. MCCURRY: That is just not true. France and Russia are consistently supportive of those U.N. resolutions that point out the importance of these inspections regimes and the importance of full compliance by Saddam Hussein with the program of inspections ordered by the cease-fire resolution, Resolution 687, for the exact reason that those biological and chemical weapons programs, and also the concern that remains about missile technology programs and the nuclear program, pose a significant risk when they are in the hands of someone who has demonstrated his willingness to use those capacities in a wanton manner.
Q Just one follow-up. There seems to be an orchestrated attempt, a campaign now under way to build up a certain sentiment, more than the usual, against Iraq, just in case there is some action.
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- your news organizations cover the news and they make their decisions about stories that they want to pursue, and the Pentagon, I think, has done a good job of responding to the questions that they've gotten. And I think there is strong concern in this country about those U.S. service people who are at risk in the Gulf, strong concern that they might have at some point -- if the President deems it necessary, to go into action to protect our interests and the interests of the world community, and I think the President is delighted that there is sufficient interest.
Q Are you denying that there is a campaign under way from here?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's very clear that we have been as explicit as necessary so that the American people understand the threat posed by these programs that are the subject of U.N. inspections. And we've done that so that people do understand that this is not a casual interest or a politically motivated deployment of forces in that region, and done so because of the very real risk associated with programs that Saddam Hussein may be pursuing.
Q Mike, the President talked to Attorney General Reno today. Is there any concern that she may require a medical leave before she comes back to her job, or --
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing about the phone call that the President had with her, which was just a get well call, would indicate that. She reported that she felt in pretty good shape, and I believe the statement from the Justice Department has made that clear, too.
Q Did they discuss her investigation into campaign fundraising?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that anything came up in that call other than the health of the Attorney General.
Q Would you please have any comments on Russia's admission APEC?
MR. MCCURRY: For some time, the United States has believed that Russia has an important role to play in the Asian Pacific community. We have, for months if not years, indicated that they could play a valuable role in that forum, which is a way in which the nations of the Pacific community talk about their commercial and financial and trade common interests in a forum in which they can exchange views at the leadership level. And I think that the United States, of course, felt it was very fitting for Russia to be included and was pleased with the consensus that developed around all three of the new members admitted yesterday.
Q Has the White House received any word from Justice about whether it's going to close the investigation, expand it? I know there have been many reports.
MR. MCCURRY: None that I'm aware of.
Q Mike, did Russia's intercession in Saddam's -- in the Gulf situation change the U.S.-Russian relationship in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Mike, could you go back and explain why the town hall meeting is not taking a back seat to that fundraising event, especially since --
MR. MCCURRY: They are two unrelated events. When the President is traveling in a city, he often combines different types of events, and this is not at all unusual.
Q Why is it that you're doing this during the day when you want America to see this and to talk about it, and that would have been the perfect time --
MR. MCCURRY: The President usually does most of his newsmaking events early in the day so that we can get appropriate coverage on network television and let the people who cover things in print report on the story for the next day. I think it's usually the custom here that we try to make most of our news before the end of the day.
Q Did the President ask Webb Hubbell to find out about UFOs and the JFK assassination?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We have a regular briefing in the Oval Office with this space alien that some tabloids report. (Laughter.) Maybe The New York Post hasn't reported that, but we asked the space creature to look into that story.
Q Did he ask Hubbell to find out about those two issues?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea and I'm not going to respond to specific things in books that are written.
Q Are you briefing -- are you coming here on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not going to have anyone here on Friday, no.
Q No? Is it a holiday?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a federal holiday, but we're not planning a briefing here. We'll have a duty roster here, but we're not planning a briefing here on Friday.
Q On the agreement that the Baltic nations are going to come here and sign next January, does this entail any security guarantees?
MR. MCCURRY: If I understand correctly, the charter, the bilateral charter that we intend to have, it will include ways in which we can further our cooperation on security and encourage the type of military-to-military discussions that we've had under way with the Baltics, but not a security guarantee in the sense that you're defining it.
Q Is there any reason why they should not feel left out in the cold? I mean, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland all have worked towards NATO membership, and no efforts are being made in regard to those three countries?
MR. MCCURRY: All three of those countries have been well aware of the decision-making process for NATO expansion and have understood that that is the process that has been decided collectively by all 16 NATO countries. I think they all have been very active in the Partnership for Peace program and have been involved closely with NATO authorities, in joint planning and in some cases joint exercising, too, I believe. And I think that bodes well for their future participation with NATO.
This is not the same kind of charter that NATO has established with the Russian Federation and Ukraine -- it's a bilateral between the United States and the three Baltic nations -- but it is a demonstration of the role that we believe they can play in an integrated, democratic, and peaceful Europe.
Q The college columnist who wrote the column about Chelsea, the Secret Service, he says, searched his apartment today, or recently.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about that. I think you'll have to -- I'll have to refer that to the Service.
Q Any concern that that's heavy-handed?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know any of the details of that inquiry, and I refer you to the Service.
Q -- were stripped of IMF funding, the President is going to sign today. Given what's going on in Asia, will the President ask Congress to restore that money in January?
MR. MCCURRY: We've indicated we will have to pursue proposals that will allow the IMF to be fully funded, particularly as the IMF is addressing some of these issues, but we've indicated that we believe, given the need and given the discussions coming out of APEC, that it will be apparent to Congress that that is a facility that needs to be approved. The new authority for borrowing, the NAB provision that we sought was one that, if I understand correctly, was not widely objected to in Congress; it was tied up in a discussion of other issues, which is why it was not included in the bill that the President signs today.
We're very hopeful, given the broad support for the borrowing authority that exists in Congress, that we can get that passed.
Q What's on for Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: I can do the week-ahead at the end, if we're at the end. Are we at the end, Claire, or do you have news from the front?
Q I have a question.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Our correspondent in Baghdad has apparently got word that Saddam has invited the weapons inspectors into the palaces.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about that.
Q Would that be a welcome development?
MR. MCCURRY: That would be up to Mr. Butler, who is in charge of those inspections, to deal with that, and we'll see how that develops. It's obviously a development --
Q But isn't that what the United States --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on something I've just heard about, Claire. You know that.
Q Even after they come out?
Q OMB Director Raines advised against expecting any large tax cuts in the President's State of the Union, but indicated that if GOP lawmakers can come up with acceptable ways of paying for either an alternative minimum tax or marriage tax, the White House is willing to entertain those.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you for giving the summary of Director Raines' speech. I should have done that, and those of you who didn't see it, that was an accurate presentation of his views, and of our views. (Laughter.)
Okay, one last thing before we --
Q Who is up at Camp David with the President this weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: Family, I think. I don't have the full list, but I saw Roger and his family here earlier at the turkey pardoning, and so I imagine they're having a family Thanksgiving.
Q What time is the departure?
MR. MCCURRY: We expect that to be sometime later this afternoon. The sooner the better, obviously.
Q Is he coming back on Saturday night for the wedding, and then they have to go back up?
MR. MCCURRY: The First Lady indicated that they are attending a social function on Saturday back here in town and then they'll go back up Saturday night.
Q Do you have any idea when they're going to be back on Sunday, Sunday night, Sunday afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be up to them, whenever they feel like it.
Q Where are you going, North Carolina?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'll be around here.
Q What about the radio address?
MR. MCCURRY: Are we taping the radio address?
MR. LOCKHART: Taping it Friday.
MR. MCCURRY: Taping it Friday.
MR. LOCKHART: It will be available Friday afternoon.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll make it available Friday afternoon for those of you who have got weekend duty.
Q Is there a subject at this point?
Q There is a subject. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Service, six months beyond the service summit.
MR. MCCURRY: Review of where we are after the service summit.
Q Where are we?
MR. MCCURRY: Moving forward and making great progress.
A couple of other scheduling points. The President and the First Lady will travel over the Christmas holiday, beginning December 30th. They'll probably be gone five days or maybe even slightly longer than that. I imagine they will make their customary stop down in South Carolina and then head to somewhere warmer than Washington, D.C., to be announced later. But just so those of you planning know that they will be out of town.
And the week ahead.
The President's got some fundraising events Monday evening.
Q No kidding.
MR. MCCURRY: Tuesday, he's going to the grand opening of the MCI Arena.
MR. MCCURRY: Tuesday. Tuesday evening. Wednesday is the Town Hall in Akron, Ohio. Thursday, he lights the --
Q What goes on in Chicago?
MR. MCCURRY: The Chicago event, I don't have them.
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's a DCCC.
MR. MCCURRY: He goes on -- they have a DCCC event in Chicago Wednesday night. Thursday, the President lights the annual Christmas Tree. Friday, we've got our US-EU summit, which is held every six months, and that's the week. There will probably be more that we add on as we get into the week, but that's what's currently slated. We hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving. See you on Monday.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:54 P.M. EST