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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 5, 1997
                            PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                               MIKE MCCURRY
                            The Briefing Room            

3:10 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: I promised that I'd give you what I've got so far on vacation so you can start making vacation plans. It looks like the President and the First Lady and family will be here during the Christmas holiday. They don't plan any out-of-state travel until December 30th. They'll go to Hilton Head where they will attend Renaissance Weekend, as they do every year. They'll remain there the nights of the 30th and the 31st, and then sometime on New Year's Day they will take off for the Virgin Islands. And they plan to stay there until Sunday, the 4th, coming back sometime late Sunday, the 4th.

So that's your travel schedule for the Christmas holidays. And what else can I tell you today?

Q Did the President think he was misinterpreted by The New York Times?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I think the Times, I think, reported very accurately the context in which the President will evaluate any tax ideas that he considers as we move forward to the State of the Union.

Q Is he considering a tax cut?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been tax cuts proposed, there have been -- suggested that could provide greater relief. And the President I think just told you he'd be very clear, and we've always been clear -- in the area of tax policy, we have always said we will look at the ideas that are considered by the White House, considered by Treasury, reviewed under the auspices of the National Economic Council, with an eye towards what's good for the economy, what's fair for taxpayers, what builds on this administration's very strong record of fiscal discipline and reducing budget deficits -- because we're not going to do anything that goes back and blows a hole back into the deficit -- and we've got to make sure that we work to simplify the tax code that it becomes easier for Americans and not more complex.

And at the same time as we fashion tax policy, we're not going to undermine our ability to make those kinds of critical investments in education and in training that had been at the heart of producing this much more productive work force that's now seeing its real wage growth increasing. So that's the context in which we will evaluate tax ideas.

Q Mike, the President is going to a church in Shaw on Sunday, finally, I thought to speak to the citizens of D.C.

MR. MCCURRY: Mark, you're the only person in the world that's been pumping up that speech, as far as I can tell.

Q No, Eleanor Holmes Norton pumped it up and --

MR. MCCURRY: She made it clear the other night after the meeting that he'd been invited to make some brief remarks, and that is what he will do. He will certainly reaffirm his own commitment to this city that is now is adopted city; he'll make it clear that the work that we have done over the last year, beginning with what I think was a very major speech on the District of Columbia, his outline and words in support of his own financial revitalization package which is -- major portions of which, large portions of which have been redacted now by the United States Congress -- he will make it clear that that becomes a foundation upon which we can continue to work to revitalize this magnificent city. And I think he'll make that -- in very brief remarks -- make that commitment very clear.

Q To follow up, when the President met with the City Council leaders and the Control Board he made no mention, I was told, of home rule and further expansion of political rights. Yesterday, last night, he went to a movie that talked about slavery. Many people here feel that D.C. residents are still politically enslaved. They don't have a vote in the House, they don't have a vote in the Senate. Now, will the President ever speak to that? He could do that by legislation. Let me just finish. He could provide congressional representation by stature.

MR. MCCURRY: We've got a lot of work to do, Mark, wrap it up.

Q Well, that's my question. Is part of the legislative package --

MR. MCCURRY: The answer to your question -- your analogy is robust, but we'll leave that your analogy. I don't think people can equate slavery or the conditions of those on a slave ship in 1839 to the current conditions of the District of Columbia, and I think that's a bit far-fetched. I will say that the President is committed to home rule and he certainly will take his opportunity to say again that we look forward to the conditions in which the District can thrive, prosper, and self-govern. And I think that that is the commitment that he will have.

Q Still committed to --

MR. MCCURRY: Of course. He ran on a platform that has included that twice.

Q Mike, can you tell us what the White House involvement is so far on the issue of Mr. Bliss in Moscow and --

MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that this administration at very high levels in a variety of ways has communicated very directly with the government of the Russian Federation that this individual should not be incarcerated on espionage charges. The Russian ambassador, as you know, was called in by the State Department today; the Secretary of State has raised this with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia; there have been other communications using channels that we have proven effective and most effective in resolving our bilateral concerns, and we will continue to pursue this.

Q Has the President talked to Mr. Yeltsin on that point?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has not spoken to Mr. Yeltsin. As you know, he's been on a foreign travel.

Q Did he threaten economic -- cutting off economic aid?

MR. MCCURRY: We have not threatened economic aid, but we have certainly made it clear that interfering with those pursuing legitimate commercial activities who are employed by enterprises doing legitimate business in Russia sends a very bad signal and could put a chilling effect on commercial relations that are important to future economic prosperity in Russia. That point has been made and was made today specifically by the presentation given to the Russian ambassador, as the State Department has already briefed.

Q Is it a troubling sign that the Russians would put U.S.-Russian relations at a risk over this case?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's always troubling when matters like this cannot be effectively resolved.

Q Mike, President Clinton just made mention about Bill Lann Lee, saying that he is entitled to a Senate vote, a confirmation vote. But there's still word around this complex that possibly there could be some activity next week on Bill Lann Lee. Has anything changed?


Q Well, could there be possibly a recess appointment or --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any reason to change what I've already told you on that.

Q Was Larry Lawrence's nomination to be ambassador of Switzerland properly vetted?

MR. MCCURRY: That's being looked at now by the State Department so I don't want to answer that question until we have facts.

Q Based upon what you know now, Mike, can you offer --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to make preliminary conclusions when other entities are reviewing the facts.

Q Let me ask you this. The State Department has said that back in 1993 they looked into this and could find no independent corroboration that he was telling the truth about his Merchant Marine service.

MR. MCCURRY: That's a mischaracterization of what they've said, David, and you can go back to the State Department and get the answer the way they said it. That's not what they said.

Q Can you -- well, how am I mistaken?

MR. MCCURRY: You can go back to the State Department -- they briefed on it, they've indicated the circumstances of which they understood documentary evidence to be available and how they apply that. They are now in the review process; they're going to reconstruct the record on that. I'm not going to piecemeal answer questions from you on the subject until they've done their review.

We get in trouble around here -- you guys pound on us when we give out pieces of stories, so we're going to work, get the story as best together as we can get it and then make it available to you.

Q The World Trade Organization ruled against Kodak in its case against Fuji. What's the next step?

Q Can we stay on Larry Lawrence?

MR. MCCURRY: Say again -- on the WTO?

Q They ruled against Kodak in their case against Fuji. What's the next step?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the -- obviously, we are extremely disappointed by the report. And the status quo that exists now is not acceptable. I think Ambassador Barshefsky will make clear very shortly that in a situation in which less than 3 percent of the film sold or distributed in Japan is from foreign imported sources, that that's not the condition in which there is market access or competition, and the United States will have to continue to press vigorously for meaningful access to the market. We will evaluate the broad range of options that are available -- multilateral, bilateral, regional actions that might be available under our trade laws, which include Section 301, and we'll explore what opportunities there are to take act ion.

Q Under what time frame?

MR. MCCURRY: The USTR will be outlining the steps that they think are necessary under the timetable they see fit.

Q Mike, as you know, part of the record that was supplied to Togo West supporting the Larry Lawrence waiver was the President's statement on the day of Larry Lawrence's death which states he was wounded when his ship was sunk by enemy torpedoes in arctic waters. Who provided that statement to the Army?

MR. MCCURRY: That statement was provided to the Army, as we have indicated, by Ambassador Holbrooke.

Q Ambassador Holbrooke provided that? This is a statement from the President?

MR. MCCURRY: That was -- the information that was relied upon was the statement that was submitted to the Department of the Army by Ambassador Holbrooke, which we indicated yesterday.

Q Mike, the White House was not at all reluctant when this story broke a couple weeks ago to say quite adamantly that Larry Lawrence deserved a Purple Heart for what he did and we were all amiss in doing the story. So what happened in terms of your not getting the right information?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know the answer to that, David. If I knew the answer to that, we would have completed the work that the State Department will try to do to get answers.

Q If I could follow. Forgive me if this was asked, but if it is found out that somebody lied and he wasn't entitled, would he be unburied?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on what the results of any review that are underway might show.

And remember, David, we went from a story that this administration sold burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery and somehow or other that's now being equated to this story, and that's not what this story is. This story is an allegation that someone falsified a war record. That's a much different story.

Q But has a body ever been taken out of Arlington?

MR. MCCURRY: You should go ask the superintendent of the cemetery. I do not know the answer.

Q Congressman Everett said today that this would not have happened, that his -- that there would have been a much more thorough check of his background when these questions were raised four years ago were it not for the fact that he was a political appointee and a big money donor. How do you --

MR. MCCURRY: It's very clear that that's not true from the what the Secretary said and very clear from the briefing yesterday, the circumstances under which the review occurred. The briefing at the Pentagon.

Q I'm not clear, I'm sorry.

MR. MCCURRY: They went into that in some detail yesterday at the Pentagon.

Q So it's not true that the White House or the State Department looked the other way because he had --

MR. MCCURRY: We have made it clear already, David, that there were no considerations of contributions as part of the review process. The Secretary attested to that in the statement that he made, making it clear --

Q No, that was on the burial question. I'm talking about back in '93. What Everett is saying is that back in '93, were it not for the fact that here was this big money donor coming to be ambassador, if these same questions about his record would have been raised back in '93, which were but were apparently put aside --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't understand the question. Is he challenging or faulting the confirmation process or the vetting process?

Q Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, then, he should ask the questions about the confirmation process and for whatever reasons the Senate Foreign Relations Committee didn't explore those matters of the Senate -- of the vetting process. As I have already told you, we can answer the questions once we get a more thorough review of the subject from the State Department.

Q Mike, in more general terms, as you described, this is an allegation that someone falsified a war record. In general terms, is it acceptable to the administration that someone be buried at Arlington based on a falsified war record? I'm not talking about the specific case but as a general --

MR. MCCURRY: That is such an obvious question with such an obvious answer, I think it's maybe time to move on to something else, okay?

Any other subjects?

Q If it's an obvious answer, what is it? What's the answer?

MR. MCCURRY: It's obvious. I'm not going to dignify the question by answering an obvious question. I mean, obviously, that is a place of sacred honor to all Americans and no one should be buried there who has falsified records. But what the circumstances are and the truth is here, you may rush to interpret but we won't.

Q On tax reform, the tests that the President keeps talking about, is it accurate to say then that the flat tax and a national sales tax would not be acceptable to the administration because they fail every single test except for simplification?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has made clear the criteria and I think the proposals -- every proposal we've seen on both flat tax and consumption tax result in tax incidences that go against the criteria the President listed.

Q Including the Gephardt plan?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know if I would call that a flat tax plan. I don't believe Mr. Gephardt does.

Q Well, it's a flatter tax.

MR. MCCURRY: It's a simpler tax, and one of our goals is a simpler tax system.

Q It has been suggested that the President is looking at Gephardt's plan as a possible model. Is that --

MR. MCCURRY: Look, I'm not -- the President has made it very clear to you he has no specific tax proposal that he is putting forward, so I am not going to put one forward for him now.

Q Yes, Michael. Is it correct the President is going to Charlotte Street next weekend?

MR. MCCURRY: Going where?

Q Charlotte Street in the Bronx next week?

MR. MCCURRY: He is going to go to South Bronx next week. I'll do that in the week ahead.

Other questions, other subjects? Okay, ready for the week ahead? The week ahead: the Saturday radio address will be taped later today and, as I indicated to you, it would be on the subject of school allowance. Sunday morning we have already talked about, courtesy of Mr. Plotkin, the President's visit to Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Q Is that going to be open press or travel?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. In-town travel pool coverage, 11:00 a.m., Metropolitan Baptist. And then we do in the afternoon Kennedy Center honors. Monday, no public schedule.

Tuesday, the President goes up to New York City on Tuesday night. He's going to attend a reception sponsored by the U.S.-U.N. Mission and held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage for Human Rights Day, which is Wednesday. This will kick off a year-long 50th anniversary celebration for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a cornerstone of the international human rights regime. The President will give brief remarks. There will be prominent governmental and non-governmental organizations represented there. By the way, on the same day, the First Lady is going to be giving --

Q What day is this that you're talking about?

MR. MCCURRY: December 10th.

Q Wednesday?

MR. MCCURRY: Wednesday. Yes, Wednesday.

That was Tuesday. The next day, December 10th --

Q What's he doing on Tuesday during the day?

MR. MCCURRY: Tuesday, during the day, he goes up -- Tuesday during the day --

MR. LOCKHART: He goes to New York in the evening.

MR. MCCURRY: He goes up to New York in the afternoon. We will probably -- we're holding -- most of the schedule next week we are holding for budget meetings and for deliberations on things that are going to build into the State of the Union. So there's not a lot -- there's a lot of in-house work going on, but not a lot that we're listing for public consumption.

The First Lady will give a keynote speech at a U.N.-hosted event related to the Human Rights Day at the ECOSOC Chamber at the U.N.

Q What is that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm trying to remember -- Economic and Social Council -- and will include governmental and non-governmental representatives, as well.

On Wednesday morning, Deborah, the President will visit the South Bronx. He'll get a firsthand tour of that area and talk about efforts to spur urban renewal, both by encouraging private sector investment and by putting in place federal policies that encourage more revitalization of the community.

Q Is there anything new in that?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It looks a lot different and a lot more vibrant than when President Carter and President Reagan went there.

Q No, no, no. In what he's doing now. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: He will have -- specifically, some -- he will talk a little bit about some things I think are related to New York that the New York folks might be more interested in, but it won't be a major policy --

Q Then he's going Christmas shopping?

MR. MCCURRY: He may do some Christmas shopping while he's there.

Q Will the Mayor join him?

MR. MCCURRY: Sounds like he's going to be shopping for campaign contributions, more so than that. (Laughter.)

Thursday, he goes down to Miami.

Q What about Wednesday night?

MR. MCCURRY: Wednesday night he's got the fundraiser, the DCCC fundraiser, where I expect him to be introduced warmly and enthusiastically by Congressman Gephardt. And the President I'm sure will speak warmly and affectionately about the fine leadership provided by Mr. Gephardt.

Q This is New York or Miami?

MR. MCCURRY: This will be in New York.

Q Isn't there also a DNC a fundraiser that night?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, there is a DNC -- yes. DCCC and DNC event.

Q Same event or two separate events?

MR. MCCURRY: No, two separate events. They don't list them here, but we can get that -- we'll get that later in the week next week.

Thursday, he goes down to Miami. We will have an event in Miami during the day that will focus on economic issues. And we'll tell you more about that early next week. And he attends events for Lieutenant Governor McKay and the DNC Thursday later in the day and then returns to Washington that night.

Friday, nothing scheduled. And Saturday, probably a live radio address on Saturday.

Q Do you have an expectation of the decision on a recess appointment next week?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have expectations, but I think it's -- I'd say that our effort to achieve confirmation by the Senate and explore with the Senate and the Senate leadership the prospects for an up or down vote are quickly coming to the point where they're -- we're going to either have a shot at it or we're not. And if it's quite apparent that senators are going to continue to block this nomination, I think that will become clear to the President sometime soon, perhaps as early as next week.

Q The President made it clear in the town meeting and the events surrounding it that he wants to introduce a sense of urgency to issues of race. Now, in the nomination of Lee, to the degree that there are connections to the race issues there, he has the tool to make it happen. Why not just make it happen? Why not just pull the trigger on that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the best thing for enforcement of civil rights laws that benefit minority Americans would be to see him confirmed by the Senate, as he should be. And until we exhaust every last possibility to see whether or not we can get him the confirmation vote he deserves, other options I think should be left in abeyance. But the President recognizes that it's important to move forward and will have to act appropriately when the time comes.

Q Well, have the Republicans threatened any kind of retaliation in terms of worsening relations or in anything on that score?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that, in fairness, those that we've consulted with on the Hill have made it clear that this would not make the working relationship easier.

Q Is that -- you're holding up the President's decision then?

MR. MCCURRY: No. What's holding up the President's decision is determining whether or not the pressure that we felt built on the Senate because of the worthiness of this nominee and the quality of this nominee, and the embarrassment that we believe some senators, especially moderate Republicans, are facing because of the position their leadership has taken might cause some reconsideration. We've been hoping that there would be some reconsideration. There have been some things said by individual senators that suggest that some of them feel like their leadership has put them in a very compromised position. And we had hoped to accentuate that feeling of discomfort during this period. And we have had some success in that, but whether or not sufficient to give Bill Lann Lee the vote he deserves in the Senate is unclear at this point. If it's not --

Q Your moment of decision is fast approaching.

MR. MCCURRY: Our moment of decision has passed. I think the President is very clear --

Q I mean you moment of decision on whether to --

MR. MCCURRY: We've made it very clear what we would do. I think we have been waiting to see if there's any change of heart on the part of the Senate. And if there's not, we've already made it clear what we will do.

Q But nobody's around and you act like it's an active, live thing going on the Hill and there isn't any action there is there?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, if the senators are feeling political pressure because of the position they've taken on this nomination, they would feel it back home in their state. And that's what we've been working to assess. But that's --

Q The question I'm asking is your moment of deciding on the success of that process is fast approaching.

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. I mean, our ability to see if there have been any change in the environment and see what change of heart there may be among the leadership we're actively exploring.

Q So if there is a recess appointment -- I say hypothetically -- next week, how long would Lee be able to stay in office?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. If we come to the point we make that kind of appointment, I will get the history on that. I think it would be until the end of the current session of Congress, which would be to the end of 1998.

Q Mike, if you go that route, how concerned are you that he would not be able to do the job the President wants him to do?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been times when, in the last two or three years, the Republican Congresses have worked pretty hard to thwart, harass, and make difficult the jobs of those who are charged with enforcing the law.

Q So which is more important, the job or the person?

MR. MCCURRY: It is most important to the President that we make a statement about the importance of the office, putting people of quality who have got the commitment to enforce the law on the books in the jobs, and make it clear to the United States Senate the way the Constitution works under Article II -- that the President is the one who nominates and they advise and consent, and it's not the other way around.

Q Are there other vacancies in the Justice Department at that level -- Criminal Division -- for three years vacant?

MR. MCCURRY: I honestly do not know.

Q Mike, are you willing to wait until January 27th to make your decision, or make it earlier?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's pretty clear. I already answered that question.

Q Is it entirely clear that Lee himself would want to take the job under the circumstances of a recess appointment?

MR. MCCURRY: He's a very committed and very decent person, and one who's really interested in seeing that the cause of civil rights is advanced in this country and that the effective administration of the laws pursued by the Department of Justice.

Q Is that a yes to the question of whether he --

MR. MCCURRY: I can't speak for him on something that is so personal. But I think -- he may have indicated publicly that he would do it. That's certainly our understanding.

All right, see you next week.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 3:32 P.M. EST