THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good Monday to all of you here at the White House. I've got nothing.
Q Would you care to expand on the flexibility instructions?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think the Vice President spoke very clearly in Kyoto, indicating that the President has asked our negotiators in Kyoto to do everything possible to get the kind of global regime for greenhouse gas emissions that will make sense economically, that will address the problem in a very specific way with timetables, but also recognize that it has to be a participatory process in which both developing and developed nations jointly participate.
Now, specifics, there's no way we should be describing those here at the White House or elsewhere here in Washington when our negotiators are presumably involved in fairly intense efforts in Kyoto to address the question. So I don't think it would be useful for us to try to speculate on what -- how one might be flexible in these negotiations.
By the way, I should tell you, the President yesterday made four phone calls to counterparts just to discuss in general the efforts underway in Kyoto. He talked to President Ramos of the Philippines, President Mkapa of Tanzania, President Cardoso of Brazil, and President Menem of Argentina -- good conversations in each case designed to clearly talk to some leaders of developing nations about some of the things we're trying to achieve in Kyoto.
Q Without giving a specific percentage, though, can you tell us that the flexibility involved targets and timetables, and is that where the President instructed people to be flexible?
MR. MCCURRY: You don't have to be following the negotiations in Kyoto very closely to understand that developing countries and some developed nations have expressed different points of view from the United States on exactly that, on what is the nature of the timing and what are the nature of the specific emission reductions that would be achieved. So that's presumably an area in which negotiators would want to be flexible.
Q Are those four developing nations, was something specific to those four nations?
MR. MCCURRY: In each case I think the President felt that those very influential voices of those four Presidents might hold sway with other members of the developing world.
Q Well, Mike, what about on the other side? I mean, the Senate has made pretty clear it doesn't want to pass something that doesn't -- how flexible does the White House think the senate is on the other side?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've made very clear, as I said at the outset, that there needs to be a participatory regime that includes the developing world.
Q But are you getting signals from the Senate that they are willing to be flexible on how soon and how fast the developing nations get involved?
MR. MCCURRY: The Senate has not been meeting so it's been in no position to pronounce itself. There are senators who are in Kyoto who have been quite outspoken on that.
Q Mike, isn't it clear, though, at this point that there isn't going to be a deal coming out of Kyoto and it's going to have to be negotiated in the many months to come?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I don't -- do you think that's -- I don't believe that's clear at this point.
Q Well, there's only so much time left and the differences are wide.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's true. (Laughter.)
Q Does the White House see enough progress getting made that you believe that there can be a deal at Kyoto?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a negotiation. There's a lot of work ahead in the next couple of days. We'll see how it comes out. It's impossible to predict at this point.
Q Some reason to believe there will be a deal, then?
MR. MCCURRY: No way of knowing at this point whether there will be a deal.
Q What's the status of efforts to get a Medicare commission chairman?
MR. MCCURRY: Ongoing.
Q Who's negotiating with the Republican leadership on your behalf?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a variety of contacts with leaders. Mr. Bowles has been directly involved, but others have been, as well.
Q Is Bob Dole one of the possible candidates?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- do not know and wouldn't say even if I did know.
Q The economic speech on Thursday -- do you have anything more on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not exactly certain whether it will be an economic speech, but it will be a speech and the subject is still being debated here.
Q What happened to the economic speech?
MR. MCCURRY: There are several venues coming up in which the President might want to talk at greater length about economics. We'll give you the announcement of a specific speech when we've got a specific time.
Q Mike, how did the State of the Union discussions go this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Excellently.
Q What was discussed?
MR. MCCURRY: The State of the Union.
Q Why was Bill Lann Lee invited to speak at the Justice Department ceremony since he's nominated, but not confirmed? And does the President share the kind of declarative sentence from Erskine Bowles that Bill Lann Lee will be the next assistant attorney general?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President agrees with Mr. Bowles, and he was chosen to speak because he clearly is qualified to lead the Office of Civil Rights at the Justice Department. One might disagree with him, one might believe that the law should be differently, but that's not the advice and consent test that the United States Senate is asked to bring to bear on presidential nominations. This is someone who even senators themselves at his hearing agreed was a very impressive candidate for this office, and the President would like to see him confirmed, first and foremost, but in any event, wants him to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights.
And, April, on the State of the Union, they had a good conversation. There will be further meetings, and sometime closer to January 27th or so we'll brief you on the speech.
Q Thank you. Now going back to Bill Lann Lee -- is the President back-pedaling a little bit, pulling back from the possible recess appointment because of the letter from Orrin Hatch?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Why isn't he announcing a recess appointment this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, for the reason I told most of you earlier. He's interested in seeing if a public discussion of this issue can't get members of the Senate to come to their senses, because this is an excellent nominee with good qualifications who has publicly indicated that his intent is to enforce the laws that are on the book as law as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. And that should not pose a problem to senators. And one gathers that the opposition arising to him is for political issues rather than for the record of the nominee.
Q Well, Mike, other than the civil rights community, do you have any evidence that the public is actually paying attention to this discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: Most likely not. I don't think it's a subject that most Americans pay a lot of attention to. One would hope that more Americans would pay attention because it's an important office within the Justice Department, charged with the responsibility of enforcing this nation's civil rights statutes.
Q Two questions unrelated -- first, why is Gingrich coming into the White House today? And I have a Lann Lee question.
MR. MCCURRY: Why don't you ask them both, and I'll pick which one I can answer. (Laughter.)
Q I'll give you a cafeteria style. Do you sense that if you wait long enough then the Senate and the Republicans will be considered, to some degree, racist? Is that what you're thinking?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that they would be ashamed into seeing that their opposition arises only because of political or philosophical differences with the President. Surely, they exist. Surely, they can have different points of view on questions related to civil rights law. But the law is the law. And they're charged under the Constitution with changing the law, if that is their desire; we are charged with enforcing the law and the President, under the Constitution, has the right to nominate people who will work for him to enforce the laws that are on the books.
On the question related to the Speaker, the President, as he did with the Majority Leader two weeks ago -- when was the meeting with Lott? He met recently with Majority Leader Lott, and wanted to take the opportunity to meet with the Speaker to review the agenda that lies ahead for Congress next year and then talk about the issues that we will be pursuing as we try to work together with the Republican Congress to make progress for the American people.
Q Mike, but, basically, is the President's message to the Republican leadership on Bill Lann Lee, give me a floor vote or I will make a recess appointment?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's pretty clear to most members of the Senate now how the President wants to proceed and it's probably clear that his preference is that he get a vote. But I think I understand --
Q Are those the two choices not only that the President is pursuing, but that he is basically presenting to the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are the two that I'm aware of, yes.
Q Well, is it possible that Bill Lann Lee could just withdraw his own name?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any indication of that.
Q Well, are you waiting as long as possible so that you can make the argument that you waited as long as possible to try to get the senators aboard?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be fair to say that we want the senators to have every opportunity to think about what they are doing, to see within themselves whether they think it's a matter of fairness, to see if others who are no doubt talking to senators during this recess period are being influential and encouraging them to think otherwise, and to see if there's a way to get this man a straight confirmation in the Senate as he deserves.
Q Well, Mike, since we haven't heard any public pronouncements of senators who are starting to feel ashamed or changing their minds, do you have any evidence that senators are coming around on this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we have some evidence that some senators are squirming a little bit.
Q What's the evidence?
MR. MCCURRY: That's what we're hearing.
Q Mike, Senator Lott says that he was promised a heads-up before any recess appointments would be made so that he could keep the Senate in session to block such an effort. He says that in this case you did not give him a heads-up and that, therefore, it would be a violation of an understanding between the President and the Majority Leader.
MR. MCCURRY: If I'm not mistaken, we've had very good, candid conversations with the Majority Leader. He knows exactly what the thinking of the White House is.
Q Last Friday you indicated that a decision on --
Q You said the President is interested in seeing if a public discussion can change the Senate. What is the President doing to foster this public discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think Mr. Lee is speaking publicly today. There will be other ways in which the American people, hopefully, will learn more about this.
Q Is the President going to do anything --
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule out the President doing some things, too.
Q Mike, China gets a substantial amount of attention in this report -- rather the guidelines that were written about in The Washington Post yesterday, the nuclear targeting strategy and so forth. Doesn't that send a kind of contradictory message to China?
MR. MCCURRY: If China is discussed directly in that presidential directive document, it is a classified document and I wouldn't talk about it here. If you've got questions or interest in that subject I'll direct you to the NSC Press Office and they'll see if they can help you.
Q Can you tell us, though, if, in fact, the President has reoriented the nuclear deterrent strategy, has signed a new document?
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you there's been good policy work, as there should be, assessing what nuclear doctrine should be in the age in which we live. And the President appropriately adjusts targeting doctrine as he sees fit as Commander in Chief. Beyond that, there's nothing more I'm going to say.
Q Well, what about this notion that this is the first time since the Reagan administration that the nuclear doctrine has changed.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it changes from time to time. I think that's the first time that you -- if true, the first time there's been a substantial change in targeting doctrine involving strategic nuclear forces, although the operational plans for those change from time to time as commanders see fit.
Q Would you argue in any way with The Washington Post report?
MR. MCCURRY: I would refer you to the NSC Press Office.
Q Is the President meeting with Mr. Wei this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: He is, indeed.
Q What does he hope to get out of that, and will we have a readout afterwards?
MR. MCCURRY: He's heard a great deal about Wei Jingsheng, is very interested in meeting him to exchange views.
Q What about coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: He will be holding a press conference, if I'm not mistaken, shortly after the meeting.
Q Not at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: None planned here.
Q What can you tell us, Mike, about Erskine Bowles' future?
MR. MCCURRY: It's bright, happy, and no doubt lucrative. (Laughter.)
Q That must mean not here. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He's working quite enthusiastically and vigorously as the Chief of Staff. I'm not aware of any changes planned in the near future.
Q Do you have a sense that he'll stick around longer than earlier anticipated?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no basis upon which to speculate.
Q Mike, can you tell us, when did the President see this Labrador puppy? Was that last week? And was Hillary with him? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I think he had a close encounter with the puppy on Friday and enjoyed the puppy.
Q At his friend's house, or where?
MR. MCCURRY: On the South Lawn. He took it on no less than two separate walks. And bonding occurred, I am told.
Q Did Mrs. Clinton -- had she seen it, too, on Friday, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Joe's my expert on the puppy. (Laughter.)
Q Can we get a picture of that puppy?
MR. MCCURRY: The puppy is not here now. I think it went back to the kennel for training -- right? It's been going back for training and has not been named yet.
Q Is it the empty nest syndrome that's made this --
MR. MCCURRY: It's the President's desire to have one loyal friend in Washington. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, what is the latest happening on Larry Lawrence? Who is going to make the final decision --
MR. MCCURRY: No change since Friday; State Department has it under review.
Q The four-party talks on North Korea started -- how important are they?
MR. MCCURRY: They are important. There's no basis upon which we can speculate what the course of those talks will be, but President Kim and President Clinton, when they committed themselves to the proposal to the four-way talks saw that as an opportunity for fundamental issues to be addressed about the future of the Korean Peninsula. And we believe these exchanges will provide that forum. We hope that representatives of all parties can conduct their work in a serious and fruitful manner.
Q Mike, at most of the Race Initiative events the President talked about the importance of the EEOC complaint process. Last week an administrative judge found that the White House illegally retaliated against a White House chef who made an EEOC complaint and also raised the possibility that a couple of White House employees may have lied during that investigation. Is the White House looking into that, and does it plan to take steps --
MR. MCCURRY: We may well be. I'm not familiar with the matter.
Q Can you preview tomorrow's human rights event -- tone and whatever kind of remarks he's going to make?
MR. MCCURRY: He will be speaking at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York at an event that's sponsored by our United Nations Mission in New York. This year is particularly significant because it kicks off the 50th anniversary celebration for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is the cornerstone really of the international regime in support of fundamental human rights, one that we cite frequently in dialogue we have with other nations around the world. The President will clearly attest to the support that the United States renders to that Universal Declaration, and our desire to see its principles firmly enshrined the world over.
Q Will he talk about nations that he thinks aren't meeting that standard?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt he will take this celebratory occasion to raise specific issues that we raise through our diplomacy sometimes at his level, the highest level.
Q Mike, the President is embarking on an unprecedented number of travel for fundraising, and you told us to -- quote -- "get used to it." My question is, is the President comfortable with the fact that he's spending so much time, precious time when you consider his role, and spending taxpayer money for which they will not be reimbursed for one political party's well-being, so to speak?
MR. MCCURRY: He's confident -- you've now for the 15th or 16th time heard me on this question, but the President is confident that he can fulfill all the duties that he has been elected to pursue by the American people. He is also the leader of the Democratic Party and he has obligations in connection with that. As President, there are expenses incurred with his travel wherever he goes, but I think most Americans understand that those are costs that are associated with fulfilling his duties as President.
Q So he has no regret --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he has a lot of regret that he has to spend as much time raising money. And that's why he would like to see campaign finance reform enacted, so that the overall increase in spending by all political parties would be reduced and, thus the time politicians spend raising money would be reduced.
Q Do you think the American public would think that going to fundraisers is fulfilling his duties as President?
MR. MCCURRY: I think Americans respect the fact that the President is the titular head of his political party, regardless of who the President is, and he has to do things in support of that political party.
Q On the question of White House chefs, a judge has ruled that they --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not familiar with the case; I can't help you. But we'll try to get somebody to help you.
Q Mike, just a question about Bill Lann Lee's presence at the ceremony today. I know he's given a couple of interviews, but usually a nominee kind of keeps a low profile while --
MR. MCCURRY: Usually nominees get fair hearings by the United States Senate.
Q Right. But what I'm asking you is has there ever been another time this White House has put a nominee out in public like that, at an official ceremony?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. I think we did so with Henry Foster; we did so with Alexis Herman when she was nominated. It's not unusual when we see that a nominee is not getting fair treatment by the United States Senate.
Q Mike, any comments on the Commerce Secretary Daley's trip to India? Also, before -- to India did he consult with White House? And also, if these high level trips are making the way for the President's trip to India next year?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we did foresee an exchange of visits in pursuit of our coming travel next year to both Pakistan and India. I don't have a specific readout, unfortunately -- I apologize for that -- on Secretary Daley's visit. But these are all efforts that will lead to what we hope is a productive visit by the President sometime during the course of 1998.
Q Who makes the final decision on where they're going? Is it the President, will it be the Army Secretary?
MR. MCCURRY: At the moment, things stand where they stood on Friday, the State Department is pursuing a review. I can't tell you where the matter goes from there.
Q A judge has ruled that the two employees here were --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the case, I'm not going to wing an answer, okay? I've made that clear three times now. Another question?
Q But this is a general, EEOC question, which I believe is --
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a general EEOC question because you're asking about a specific matter that I'm unfamiliar with. If you want to embarrass me because I don't have the answer, that's fine, but I'll go and get the answer for you and we'll help you out.
Anything else? Okay, thank you.
Q Mike, just for guidance, when do you think you all will be officially announcing the dates for the India-Pakistan trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Sometime when it's set to go.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: You're welcome.
END 1:40 P.M. EST