THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, one piece of news -- the President is looking forward to visiting the 1997 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings on Friday, January 30th. Big news. Now that we've announced that they can put out all kinds of releases and stuff. We'll give you the time later on. Don't know.
MR. MCCURRY: The 30th of the month, at the end of the month. And we have child care upcoming, and our briefers will be --we're going to have Secretary Shalala, Jen Klein from the First Lady's Office, and Bruce Reed, the President's Domestic Policy Advisor, who will be here shortly after the event. So I don't have a lot to talk about.
Q Is the administration preparing to prop up the yen?
MR. MCCURRY: The Treasury Department is the place to go for comments on the implementation of our efforts to address the Asian financial situation.
Q I'm asking you.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't comment on currency matters. The currency fluctuations and currency issues are within the province of the Secretary of the Treasury.
Q Mike, before getting to more important issues, how come you guys aren't neutering Buddy? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of people around here who have been neutered, but I haven't heard a discussion of Buddy being neutered. I do not know the answer to that. I will talk to the First Dog owner and get the answer to that question.
Q You would know if there was going to be an announcement today, wouldn't you?
MR. MCCURRY: I would not go beyond what I just said -- the Treasury Department is the place to go.
Q On the neutering? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Not on neutering. Can you spay or neuter a puppy?
Q Six months.
MR. MCCURRY: Any dog owners out there that can help us?
Q Mike, neutering is usually six months --
MR. MCCURRY: That's what I thought. It's got to be a little bit older.
Q I heard that you were planning not to neuter him.
MR. MCCURRY: I wasn't planning to do anything with him. (Laughter.) Other than sucking up to the President by scratching little Buddy's belly from time to time. (Laughter.)
Q It will, however, be at risk. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I'll find out on that. And I know your insatiable appetite for dog trivia -- I will see if I can find out about that.
Q He said that the President might renew his push to ban cloning. What's the President's take on this Chicago scientist, and how will that impact your efforts?
MR. MCCURRY: In June of 1997, last year, the President accepted a unanimous recommendation from his National Bioethic Advisory Commission to move immediately to propose banning of human cloning that came after a very careful review of that issue by a panel of very distinguished people who have been giving the United States government and the President advice on bioethical issues. And that group at the time said that professional and scientific society should make it very clear in an attempt to create a child through implantation of a nuclear cell that had been generated by somatic cell technology would be an irresponsible, unethical and unprofessional act. And I think that the scientific community ought to make it clear to Dr. Seed, and I think the President would make it clear to Dr. Seed, that he has now elected to become irresponsible, unethical and unprofessional should he pursue his course that he outlined today.
Q What about legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: The legislation the President would feel strongly about and no doubt this announcement will encourage Congress to look more closely at the measure the President proposed last June.
I also understand -- if I understand correctly, the Food and Drug Administration, which does regulate genetic cell therapies believes that there may be regulatory action that could be foreseen in this circumstance. But I will direct you to them for comment on that.
Q You mean executive action where they could enforce without --
MR. MCCURRY: They regulate, if I understand correctly, they regulate and have regulated for some time gene and cell therapies. And they would have to -- gene and cell therapies are subject to FDA requirements that cover clinical trials. And it's not legal to use unapproved potential therapies except under processes that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. But, of course, given their independence, I would recommend that you contact them directly.
Q But, Mike, what you're suggesting then is that even without new legislation, it's not legal for him to do what he proposes to do now?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't state that because that would be within the province of the Food and Drug Administration to address. But if I understand correctly, they do believe there are regulatory issues associated with this proposed experiment, trial, whatever you want to call it. They can pursue that as they see fit. Irrespective of that, I think the President thinks it's important to move ahead for the moral and policy grounds that he identified last summer with legislation that would make it very clear that this type of technology should be illegal.
Q Are you saying the administration will do everything it can to stop this from happening?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just pointing to you what I have been told today -- that the FDA believes that there are some regulatory procedures that may apply here. And I think that they apparently have been talking to people who have inquired more directly about some of the action that they might be able to take.
Q Mike, if private people using private money are found to be doing this, what's the mechanism to regulate them -- throw them in jail? At this point can they be --
MR. MCCURRY: The mechanism is what I just described --the FDA and what penalties apply under certain circumstances, I'd have to refer you to them.
Q Mike, why close the fundraisers to cameras?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Why close the fundraisers to cameras?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got different ways that we allow for coverage of fundraisers, and we accommodate different types of coverage under different types of circumstances.
Q But is the White House feeling that the cameras have a chilling effect on the donors, or that the fundraising is in some way embarrassing?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We on many, many circumstances allow cameras to fundraisers and will continue to do so.
Q Mike, is the administration going to press ahead with imposing sanctions on the companies that do business with Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: That matter is still under review.
Q What's being weighed out --
MR. MCCURRY: The status of --
Q Status -- what are the issues involved in making a decision?
MR. MCCURRY: Under the requirements of law, which we carefully examine, we have got a variety of issues that we have to consider that relate to our principal areas of concern -- support of terrorism, acquisition of technologies related to weapons of mass destruction. And as a general policy matter, our isolation of Iran has been based also on the vehemence with which they have opposed the Middle East Peace process.
Q As far as these three areas of your concern, have you seen any actual change in the policies of the government of Iran that would suggest that they're meeting your concerns?
MR. MCCURRY: We have indicated that we are interested in seeing changes in behavior and actions, not words. And our policy, as you know, has not changed.
Q But, Mike, what is the -- how does this speech tomorrow relate to your decision about sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: What speech tomorrow? You mean the CNN interview?
Q The interview, I'm sorry. The interview tonight.
Q It's tonight.
Q What time?
Q At 6:00 p.m. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf Blitzer reports 6:00 p.m. tonight on CNN. Tune in and -- it may or may not --
Q Are you holding off a decision --
MR. MCCURRY: It may or may not have any relation depending on what Mr. Khatemi has to say.
Q We haven't gotten any preview?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll be anxious to see the complete transcript.
Q So you have had a preview?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got -- learning more about it as we go along.
Q Mike, is the cost of isolating Iran worth the friction that it appears to be causing with allies?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a necessary cost, John, because this administration, this President, this country, this Congress, the American people are steadfast in their opposition to terrorism, steadfast on isolating those who are attempting to acquire technologies that could wreak mass destruction of innocent civilian populations. And we are strongly supportive of the Middle East peace process. And on all of those points, the government of Iran stands against the interests of the United States, and we believe against the interests of the international community.
Q Can you point to success of the policy -- I mean, ways the projects have been stopped? It seems like --
MR. MCCURRY: There have been, over the years and over time there have been some -- the time of the so-called critical dialogue with Iran that had been launched by a certain number of our European partners. There was some assessments made that that had not yielded fruit. One thing that we can certainly say is that those who have said that engagement with Iran would lead to a change in behavior are wrong about the prediction of success for their policy.
Q Well, what you've seen so far, or heard, is there any encouraging signs?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any comment on an interview that has not aired yet.
Q What about the mere fact that he's given U.S. news organizations an interview -- is that at all important?
MR. MCCURRY: He's free to do so, and we encourage people to speak publicly to members of the American press.
Q What gestures have you made that you think they should respond to so gratefully where they're being judged?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of such gestures.
Q Well, you just said that they have not reacted to --
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. I mean --
Q What have we done to encourage him?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't said -- I'm not aware that we have done anything to encourage him. I think we've made it very clear what our stipulations are and repeated them often.
Q Have you used any intermediaries like the Swiss to start exploring how --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to comment on any of that.
Q Could you just answer one more question about the oil development and the missiles? I mean, if you don't -- if you decide not to put sanctions on France or Russia, do you think that this kind of activity can be stopped in the future?
MR. MCCURRY: You mean, can commercial development and investment in Iran, is it going to be stopped in the future? I strongly doubt it. I mean, most of our -- most European countries have made it clear they're going to continue to be commercially engaged with the government of Iran. But we've made it equally clear the reasons why, on matters of principle, we believe that the policy we pursue is the right one. And in any event, it is the law of the land.
Q Mike, I just want to turn to my question of the cost with our allies. Are you saying that the steadfastness of the American people and Congress, et cetera, makes it worth the cost of the friction and discord it does cause among the allies?
MR. MCCURRY: Our allies are well aware of how strongly we take the position that we have articulated. We have engaged very directly in dialogue with them about why we take the position we take. They know it is the law of the land, it has been passed by the Congress, the representatives of the American people. And there will continue to be differences on the issue.
Q But is it worth the cost?
MR. MCCURRY: It's worth the cost to stand against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and those who would try to violate the process that might bring peace to the Middle East, of course.
Q Would the President be interested in a similar opportunity to speak to the Iranian people the way Khatemi --
MR. MCCURRY: I've not had -- we've indicated the circumstances under which we would wish to have dialogue, and I have not heard him offer himself up to Iranian television as a subject for interview.
Q Any comment on the suit by federal judges against the President and Congress for denying them cost of living increases?
MR. MCCURRY: Is that the thing that has been settled on the -- it's something new? I haven't heard about that. I'll have to check into it.
Q The Treasury investigation on the Paula Jones matter -- Bennett says this was an effort pushed by members, Republican members of Congress to humiliate the President.
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett is Mr. Bennett, and he comments on that matter, so if he's commented on it you don't need me to.
Q But does the White House have any view at all about the investigation --
MR. MCCURRY: The White House does not and never does comment about Inspector General inquiries that may or may not be occurring in other Cabinet agencies.
Q But there will be a deposition here on the 17th?
MR. MCCURRY: I will respect the order of Judge Weber. I have no comment on that matter, given her order.
Q Not even to talk about the President's schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no comment on that matter.
Q Mike, there are a number of senior Japanese officials in town this week talking with officials not only at Treasury, but Federal Reserve, State Department, and elsewhere. Is the United States administration willing to accept their arguments that Japan is doing enough to get its financial crisis back on more stable footing and spark domestic demand?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will have an ongoing exchange of views with the government of Japan about matters related to both the U.S. economy, the Japanese economy, the regional economy, and what increasingly is the global economy. It is not in our position to judge the sufficiency of particular policies pursued, but we do from time to time express our views on what policies would lead to the kinds of outcomes that we think are in the best interests of the people of Japan and the people of the United States. And we will continue that kind of dialogue.
Q Mike, you're not a party to the lawsuit -- why is Judge Weber's order incumbent on you?
MR. MCCURRY: She has got a general -- she has asked the parties to refrain from comment, and I think asked those associated with the parties to refrain from comment. I don't think she would regard the White House Press Secretary as being disassociated from the parties in that litigation.
Q Is that the judgment of the counsel here?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not commenting on advice of counsel, correct.
Q Mike, why does it appear that New York has become the new favorite locale for fundraisers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, New York, Chicago, and L.A. have long been the favorite locales because you go to where the money is, as Willie Horton once said.
Q Willie Sutton, not Willie Horton.
MR. MCCURRY: Willie Sutton. (Laughter.) He may have said it, too. (Laughter.)
Q The White House is criticizing Republican tax cut plans generally -- has said that we ought not spend money that we don't yet have. So why does the President's budget rely on tobacco dollars that aren't yet there?
MR. MCCURRY: When the President makes a budget every year, we rely on a lot of estimates about sources of revenue for the federal government, and some of that is in the nature of estimation, because you can never predict 100 percent reliably what revenue streams will occur to the U.S. Treasury based on different taxes and different revenue-collecting measures. But in this case, based on the conversations the White House has had with the congressional leadership, we feel very secure in assuming that there will be bipartisan progress on a tobacco settlement early in this year, and that there will be ample revenue coming from that settlement that will be directed to a variety of purposes that the White House and the Congress will mutually agree to identify.
Q Mike, what is the President planning for Martin Luther King Day? And when and where will the next race town hall be?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll do the schedule ahead on Monday, I guess. Or maybe we can do it -- I don't have to now, and we've got some different plans of things I'm not sure at what stage of announceability they are. And the next race town hall meeting will occur sometime mid-winter or early spring.
Q Mike, why didn't it happen this month? We understand that the President was looking to have -- wanted to keep the momentum going this month --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've got a lot going on this month. We've got State of the Union. The President is going to surely continue to address issues related to his race initiative during this month and I would suspect during the State of the Union as well. But I think he looks forward to having another town hall meeting soon.
Q Back on tomorrow's fundraisers -- would you have us believe that the reason there is only a single reporter in either of tomorrow's DNC fundraiser is that it's a logistical decision and not a political decision?
MR. MCCURRY: It's just because that's how we decided to make coverage available. By the way, I make the point we make coverage available, and you pester us a lot about what kind of coverage is available. We do make coverage available. And I don't recall you pressing the Speaker of the House very hard when he had his round of fundraising, including some overseas travel. I don't recall you pressing any Republican political people nearly as hard as you press us on coverage. So we make coverage available, and that's the ground rules that we've got.
Q But you're dialing back the amount of coverage we have of the President at fundraisers. That seems evident.
MR. MCCURRY: As we have made very clear to you, the President is going to be doing a lot of fundraising in the course of the year. I think you're going to have lots of opportunities to cover fundraisers.
Q But, Mike, could you explain why you seemed to open it up and then scaled back?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think we did scale back. We've been doing -- we've had events in which we've had print poolers as the only coverage available. We just do it in different circumstances. It's like any other kind of event we have around here; we have different kinds of coverage depending on what the nature of the event it. I mean, if you want to say we're sort of arbitrary in the way we select the ground rules, that's probably true.
Q Sort of arbitrary.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. But we make -- grant us the point that we do allow for some coverage. I haven't seen many open Republican National Committee fundraisers of the nature of the kind that the President does. Maybe if they open up -- if they open up theirs for televised coverage, maybe we'll do ours differently. We'll see.
Q The President's have only been open since the fundraising scandal erupted. They weren't open last year.
MR. MCCURRY: If the Republicans open their fundraisers
up for live televised coverage, Bill Plante, then maybe we
about how we're going to do ours.
Q Why do you have to be guided by what they do? Why don't you rise above the occasion?
MR. MCCURRY: Because politics is a competitive business. It's a binary process, there are two political parties and they compete.
Q Mike, you've obviously made a decision at least in the near-term to scale the coverage back. Now, it couldn't be completely arbitrary on your part, there must be a reason for scaling the coverage back. Why do you want less coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I'm being fairly arbitrary about it.
Q You like that?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been no discussion on it being advantageous to the White House to have less coverage at the fundraisers?
Q We are going to have coverage of the fundraisers we do. I just made it clear to you we allow coverage of our fundraisers and others don't. The other party doesn't. So I don't understand what the issue is. We allow different type of coverage under different types of circumstances.
Q Does the President have any view on the controversy over the pending execution of the woman in Texas?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe we've taken any position on that, and I don't think I want to reflect any views of the President on that case, on that particular case.
Q Are you counting on any tobacco money for your child care expenditures?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll see, as the briefers come forward
that we are -- a portion of it, not the entire amount, but a portion of the cost, which has been estimated at $20 billion over five years, will come from what we anticipate the revenue stream from the tobacco settlement to be. And we can do a little more on that.
Q Does that mean if you don't get the settlement, you don't get the programs that were earmarked for it? Or would you find the money elsewhere?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it just means that you either -- if you want the programs you have to identify other pay-fors. It's like any other program.
Q And have you run this by Congress at all, the child care program? I mean, what's the --
MR. MCCURRY: We've had a lot of contact coming out of the White House Conference on Child Care, a lot of contact with members of Congress about --
Q Both sides of the aisle?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had good conversation with both sides of the aisle and we anticipate bipartisan support. In fact, I hope we will see some bipartisan support today.
Q How does the funding issue square with what Franklin Raines said the other day that the fiscal '99 balanced budget proposal that the President will present to Congress is not dependent on any income from tobacco settlements?
MR. MCCURRY: The balanced budget is not. You could take the tobacco settlement and remove it from the equation and you would still have a balanced budget. You wouldn't if you pursued additional programs without identifying additional pay-fors.
Q But this is going to be in the fiscal '99 budget, the child care initiative.
MR. MCCURRY: This child care initiative is, but the settlement will identify particular health care related needs and other programs that the revenue would be used to address. That was foreseen in the principles of the settlement when it was negotiated.
Q Any of the money that you will request in '99 to pay for the child care initiative, will any of that come from tobacco taxes?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I just said so.
Q But Raines said the other day that they don't need that money.
MR. MCCURRY: From tobacco taxes? No, not necessarily from taxes, from -- there are other ways -- there are many ways in which revenue may be generated pursuant to the settlement, from the industry and how that's structured and what kind of sources of funding are in it.
Q Right. But I think that Wolf is trying to make is that what Raines said was that the tobacco money and spending would be self-contained, that whatever money you got from the tobacco settlement --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's right. That includes some of the child care needs and some of the other identified needs have been part of the discussions related to the settlement.
Q But in answer to Mara's question, so if you don't get the tobacco settlement, some of this program does go away?
Q Or you would find something else.
MR. MCCURRY: You just find other ways to pay for it. You have to find some other pay-for.
Q You're committed to finding -- to making cuts elsewhere to preserve these programs?
MR. MCCURRY: You would either cut other programs to generate the funds. You would have to, like any other proposal we make, and every proposal we have made, you'd have to identify what the pay-fors are going to be if you propose additional spending for a new program.
Q So you're saying you're committed to every one of the programs in this initiative -- they don't depend on getting a tobacco settlement?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but that -- they do not depend on getting a tobacco settlement to move ahead, but you do have to identify a source of funding.
Q If you don't get a tobacco settlement is it the administration's plan to try to raise that revenue through a tobacco means, like a cigarette tax?
MR. MCCURRY: Our intent is to get the settlement, and we believe we will get it and we can't imagine we won't get it, given the sentiments that have been expressed about the tobacco settlement itself.
Q But if you don't get it, which is at least a possibility, is your plan to raise that $10 billion through a tobacco related avenue like --
MR. MCCURRY: We'd have to -- if we get to that point, I doubt we will, we would have to address that working with Congress through the budgeting process later in the year. I don't know that -- we don't have an alternative plan, we're going to have a budget submission in February that is going to make very clear what we anticipate as revenues and what we anticipate as proceeds coming from the settlement.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:10 P.M. EST