THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:42 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you for your patience, ladies and gentlemen. First let me start by saying the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Right Honorable Tony Blair, has accepted the President's invitation to come here for an official visit February 4th through 7th. There will be an arrival ceremony, presumably on the South Lawn on February 5th, meetings afterwards that day; anticipated at some point in the course of the stay the President and Prime Minister will have a joint press conference. The President and the First Lady will also host an official dinner for the Blairs the evening of February 5th, and we are working on other details as they come available.
There will be a lot of bilateral global issues that will be on the agenda between the two of them. For Prime Minister Blair, this is something of a hat trick at the moment. He's not only representing his government, but also the U.K. is currently holding the presidency of the EU, and they are chairing the G-8 this year as well. So there will be issues, of course, related to US-EU matters and also things that the Prime Minister and the President will want to review in advance of the G-8 meeting in Birmingham later this year.
Q Mike, the G-8, is that now the official language? Is that --
MR. MCCURRY: G-7 plus one, G-8, Summit of the Eight. We have nomenclatures that translate well into a variety of languages.
Q Is this a state visit or is this a working visit?
Q What is the status of the visits --
MR. MCCURRY: It's an official visit.
Q -- for Netanyahu and Yasser --
MR. MCCURRY: Those are working visits, I would believe. But with Chairman Arafat it's a meeting, given the fact he's not representing any government, but it is a working visit.
Q Do you have news? Anything else?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think -- part of my delay was so that we could watch Chairman Butler and Ambassador Richardson speak, and they now have. And that's about all there is new on Iraq.
Q What do you make of this apparent shift on the part of Butler, saying that the work can proceed in other areas with other teams?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have been doing a variety of inspections in a variety of ways, and I don't see that that's any change in the way that he's been working his operation over there.
Q Mike, that's not true. I mean, in November, it was all for one, one for all, either we can do all the inspections or we do no inspections.
MR. MCCURRY: Chairman Butler is in a good position to know what they have to do to carry out the work they've been charged to do by the Security Council, and he has proven that he is very determined when it comes to fulfilling his mandate from the Security Council. We have no question that he is determined to pursue the mandate he's been given by the Security Council.
Q Mike, is Saddam encouraged to obstruct the U.N., because he's effectively never punished for his behavior.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, you all have heard me on this. This is steady-as-she-goes diplomacy, diplomacy designed to keep the Security Council together as we address this recent obstruction by Saddam Hussein. And we will pursue that diplomacy to the point where we're dissatisfied it can fulfill our objectives. If it does not, as you've heard us say, the President would then have to contemplate other measures if other measures are indicated.
Q But isn't the effect of U.S. policy that Saddam has everything to gain from this behavior and nothing to lose.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back to you, Scott. David. I'm sorry, I want to give you turns to compete with each other. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
Q Are you not allowing follow-ups now?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. We'll come back.
Q The follow-up to his question is, does the United States have -- is the United States willing to let this proceed as it is? You say it's not a shift.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we've got a lot of work to do on this matter in coming days. Chairman Butler has already indicated he is going to be in Baghdad. He's clearly going to have discussions with the government of Iraq. He has clearly reported today to the Security Council his dissatisfaction with the work of his team, and we've indicated now that we will be pursuing that in the Security Council and Ambassador Richardson has already said he's going to be circulating a draft.
I'm sorry, Scott. Go ahead.
Q Now serving number 12. Isn't the effect of U.S. policy, Mike, that Saddam has everything to gain from this behavior and nothing to lose?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not the effect. He's facing the determination that's been made by the Security Council to insist on full compliance with relevant Security Council resolutions. The Security Council has hung together as it has addressed his previous obstructions. We are going to work hard in the Security Council to make sure that they continue to hang together as we address his obstructions.
Now, remember, his goal or ultimate objective, apparently, is to try to slip out from underneath the sanctions that have been present, and I'm not aware of any government entertaining any serious discussion to that end. So I'm not sure what he gains by obstructing the mandates of the Security Council.
Q If I could just follow up. Do you now say that you support Butler's decision, which appears to be different than his earlier decision in November, to let the other inspectors, including Americans, continue on with their work, even while the Scott Ritter team is stymied?
MR. MCCURRY: You've heard him just now describe, I think in a very careful way, the different work that his teams are doing there. The work that these teams have been doing in recent day is different from the work they were doing some time ago, and the way he has composed these teams is different, and I think he just gave a very good explanation of that in New York.
Q So do you support that explanation?
MR. MCCURRY: Ambassador Richardson is speaking to that right now, and I want to hold to him and see what came out of the discussion. The Security Council heard the report of Chairman Butler and I think it's fair to Ambassador Richardson to give that report.
Q Mike, you say that Saddam has gained nothing, but what he has just gained is he's stopped this team from doing its inspection.
MR. MCCURRY: As I told you earlier today, we were in this situation before and he gained nothing from it as we worked the diplomacy, and we'll have to see what happens as the Security Council responds.
Q What happens to the argument that the President said that Saddam cannot pick and choose the inspectors?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has not and did not.
Q Why not? He has.
MR. MCCURRY: There is one set of inspections that have not occurred now. They've been postponed, as Chairman Butler indicated, and there are going to be consultations at the Security Council to see how they can proceed.
Q Well, Butler said the difference between now and November was that there was no move to expel anyone. Is that really the question, whether Americans are allowed to remain in the country? Or is the question whether --
MR. MCCURRY: Chairman Butler has described some of the differences that exist in the set of inspections they're doing now, but there is nothing that's changed about the determination of the United States to pursue these inspections and also simultaneously to pursue the kind of diplomacy that will see that Saddam Hussein complies with the requirements that have been placed on him by the Security Council.
Q May I just follow up? Is it essential, in our view, that is, the United States', that Scott Ritter, the person, be allowed to be an inspector?
MR. MCCURRY: It is essential in our view that the Executive Chairman of the U.N. Special Committee be allowed to constitute those inspection teams as he sees fit. This is a function of the United Nations. We're not insisting on the presence of any particular U.S. national. We've insisted upon the ability of the United Nations to do the work that it's been charged by the Security Council to do.
Q Throughout your answers, you have made it clear that we have a lot of trepidation on whether the Security Council will stick together on this. You say "hang together" and so forth. Are we concerned that they will not back us up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've worked hard to see that the Security Council reiterates what it has stated before in Resolutions 1134 and 1137, insisting on compliance by Saddam Hussein in the inspections process order that is derivative of the post-Gulf War mandates of the Security Council. And so far, there has been no indication to us that governments are willing to back away from the insistence that they allow that kind of compliance with the inspections regime that have been so ordered.
Q Is the goal of the United States to get back to the status quo ante, in other words to just have the teams be able to work as the U.N. -- is that the goal?
MR. MCCURRY: Our goal is to see that the government of Iraq complies with the mandates placed upon it by the world community. That is the purpose of the inspections regime there. The inspections regime is there to satisfy the world community that Saddam Hussein is not pursuing those types of programs and weapons of mass destruction that might threaten the entire world community. So our objective is to make sure that he doesn't do what the world has made clear he cannot do.
Q It seems that you guys have just accepted the restrictions he has placed on the teams since October, which is that they can't get into these presidential palace compounds?
MR. MCCURRY: That's simply not a fair analysis.
Q Wait a second. You haven't talked much about that. You haven't made protests at the U.N. I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: About what?
Q About them not being able to -- all of a sudden the crisis disappeared and now it's come back because he's talking about the constitution --
MR. MCCURRY: The crisis may have disappeared in your minds; it has not changed one whit since October. That's exactly why the Commander-in-Chief has instructed two carrier battle groups to remain in the Persian Gulf. That's why we have 37,000 people deployed there. It may have slipped away from your attention temporarily, but not from ours.
Q Okay, well, could you describe the progress you've made on getting access to those sites?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been extensive regime of inspections conducted by the United Nations in that area, and they clearly are now moving in a direction that, for whatever reason, as Chairman Butler just indicated, may have caused some concern to the government of Iraq. And I think some of that may have been anticipated, and I think that's why the Chairman of the Special Committee had planned to go to Baghdad to visit with people. He had had a prior trip in which he had raised the need to gain access to certain sites and had received some negative reaction to that from the government of Iraq. And he indicated that he was going to pursue it.
So we've known that that was going to happen and known that Chairman Butler, when he returned earlier this year to Baghdad, was going to pursue a set of discussions that would likely cause the government of Iraq some concern. So it's not unanticipated that we would be where we are at this point.
Q Do you care to comment on the editorials, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, which were critical of the Clinton administration for allowing this scenario to unfold now as it has?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they were wrong, for just the reason I just said. Somehow or other, your impression is that we were forgetting about Iraq in the interim, when clearly we weren't, and we were clearly doing a lot of work within the United Nations and elsewhere to address the kind of diplomacy that we need in the days ahead and to deal with the consequences of what happens if that diplomacy is not successful.
Q The impression, though, is that in November Secretary Cohen puts a back of sugar on the table and says, look, this is what anthrax can do. And as Mara points out, there hasn't been anything -- correct me if I'm wrong -- has there been any presidential site inspected over the last several months?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been -- up until recent days, to my knowledge, Chairman Butler has reported that those sites that they have asked to inspect have been inspected. And now that they've encountered some difficulty for reasons that he has just described in New York, as we more or less anticipated, we are back in the situation that we realized we would be in.
Secretary Cohen was perfectly willing to come and plop the sugar bag on anyone's desk that invited him to come on and talk.
Q Before, the stated policy of the United States was unfettered access. Is it now the policy of the United States that it's all right as long as most of the teams get in most of the time?
MR. MCCURRY: You got a good answer to that from Ambassador Richardson, who just said so in New York.
Q What is the answer?
MR. MCCURRY: We want unfettered access to the sites that the U.N. is insisting on getting access to.
Q Right, but Terry's question is, the President says you can't pick and choose, and he is now picking and choosing --
MR. MCCURRY: They are not picking and choosing. Chairman Butler has just indicated that they're going to need access to the sites that he wants to see, and the consequences of not gaining access to that site is what the Security Council is talking about.
I think we've kind of stretched this one out as far as it goes. Other subjects, let's go.
Q Is there a time limit on unfettered access? Have we given --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to talk about timing.
Q Are you now saying that it's policy in this administration that the critical question is access to all sites and not composition of the team --
MR. MCCURRY: It has been and remains the view of our government that unfettered access to the sites that the U.N. wants to see is an important part of the fulfillment of the obligations the government of Iraq has if it wants to achieve compliance with the resolutions that are passed by the Security Council.
Q Then the identity of the inspectors who visit that site is no longer relevant?
MR. MCCURRY: The government of Iraq has nothing to say, nor should it have anything to say, about the identity or composition of inspection teams. It ought to be the province of the United Nations.
Q Mike, I think a lot of Americans might want to know why we don't just bomb the heck out this guy. Can you explain to the American people why that's not an option, given that diplomacy is going nowhere --
MR. MCCURRY: Because putting armed forces of the United States gravely at risk is the most awesome responsibility a Commander-in-Chief has. And this Commander-in-Chief will do so after he has explored all other options and we are exploring diplomatic options at this point, but the President, properly, has not ruled out other options.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q How would they be at risk if most of the strikes would be conducted by missiles?
MR. MCCURRY: Because that's a very risky business over there. And there are air defense systems that the government of Iraq has and it's not ever easy or safe to conduct that type of exercise. That's true anywhere in the world in which we are forward deployed because men and women are in harm's way whenever they are forward deployed in furtherance of the objectives of the United States of America.
Q Is the administration also worried that a strike would be counter-productive if the goal is keeping the teams in the city of Baghdad?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on the thinking that would go into exercising other options.
Q Mike, when you said that we're not insisting on the presence of any particular U.S. national, does that mean that --
MR. MCCURRY: We are not composing these teams, David. The United States government -- these teams serve and are composed by the person who supervises them for the Special Committee on behalf of the United Nations. So it's not our role to insist on the identity of any particular person or what to do. We just want them to do their work and Chairman Butler has indicated why he's got this select group of people doing that work.
Q What are the President's comments about Congressman Lantos and his desire to go to Iran as a mediator and the apparent rejection of that proposal, at least initial rejection?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had good conversations with Congressman Lantos. I think he knows our feelings and our thinking about his proposed trip. We did not encourage it. In fact, we gave him the reasons why we didn't think it would be particularly useful, but we have enormous respect for him, for his knowledge of the region, his knowledge of Iran in particular, and we have had good, respectful discussions with him.
Q What were those reasons why you didn't think it would be a good idea?
MR. MCCURRY: Because there's -- I think for all the reasons we've talked about, the type of dialogue that we seek at this point and how it would unfold. And you've heard us talk about that in our response to President Khatemi's recent comments.
Q What can you tell us about that incident in the Blue Room?
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that a white female, age 30-35, was apprehended after -- well, stopped from further defacing an area on the north wall of the Blue Room. She apparently sprayed some brown, rusty-colored paint on two busts that are in the Blue Room and on some of the wall covering, causing in excess of about -- at least in excess of $1,000 damage to the wall covering, and defacing the two busts, which will have to examined by a National Gallery conservator to estimate what kind of damage were done to them. They are rather priceless; they are two of the oldest sculptures in the residence. And we've got the names and information on them.
Q Why was she in the White House?
Q Was she on a public tour?
MR. MCCURRY: She was on a public tour, correct.
Q Did she make any kind of political statement?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any. As to the status of the inquiry that the Secret Service is making on that, I refer you to them.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: Shortly before noon, I guess.
Q Did she write any letters or words with this spray paint?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it looks like -- 12:00-12:30 -- they were just blotches of paint --
Q Whose sculpture was it?
Q Was it thought that she's not -- I mean, was she taken to St. Elizabeth's? What I'm getting at is --
MR. MCCURRY: Status -- she was taken into custody, Sam, and you'll have to check with the Service about what her status is.
Q Which busts were they, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, two by Giuseppe Ceracchi. One was a bust of Christopher Columbus and the other a bust of Amerigo Vespucci. And I will give you the piece of paper that's got the --
Q This brown paint, was it a spray can or was it --
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently.
Q Mike, was she an American?
Q Was it in her purse?
MR. MCCURRY: The circumstances of how the incident occurred, I'll refer to the Service.
Q How did the spray can get through x-ray?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll refer that to the Service.
Q Can you give the ID on her again, or any ID you can give?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't have anything -- female -- white female, age 30-35. No further info.
Q Do you know where she --
Q Was she alone or was she with a group?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't have it. Go to the Service.
Q Was she alone or was she with a group?
MR. MCCURRY: Ask the Service.
Q Did the damage look extensive?
MR. MCCURRY: Doesn't look -- it looks like a bad rouge job on the busts and slight damage on the wall.
Q How was she apprehended, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that --
Q Did tourists --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it was either one of the Uniformed Division officers on duty stopped her in the act of defacing that portion of the wall.
Q How would White House policy regarding public tours change as a result of this?
MR. MCCURRY: It won't, because this President and this First Lady are committed to keeping the residence open to the American public. This is one of the only residences in the world that's open for public tour, and the Clintons think that's an important principle to maintain.
Q Was getting the can through security a security breach at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to ask the Secret Service that. I don't know.
Q Where were the busts? Aren't they real high?
MR. MCCURRY: They were about five feet off the ground. They are on pedestals.
Q Did she say or shout anything as she was doing this?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I've been told.
Q Did she resist arrest?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I've been told. In fact, I was told that she was taken into custody and was rather calm about it.
Q We don't have a motive at all then?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know.
Q This is on Cuba. It's expected that the Pope in the first visit to that country will be denouncing the unilateral U.S. embargo against that country, and on the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce just right now announced the creation of a coalition that will be dedicated to lift the embargo on food and medical sales to Cuba. Does the White House have any reaction that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the United States government views Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba as potentially important. It could be a very positive event in bringing to the Cuban people a message of hope and of the need for respect for human rights. We hope the visit will have a lasting affect for the people of Cuba. What issues the holy father addresses while he's in Cuba, of course, up to him to decide, but we would hope that the principles of democracy, of respect for human rights, of respect for fundamental rights of all people would be something that the holy father would stress.
As to U.S. policy, which is designed to bring about change in Cuba. The purpose of that change is to address the suffering that the people of Cuba have faced as a result of this totalitarian regime. And the relief of suffering is something that I think the holy father has been enormously eloquent in addressing himself.
Q Mike, how do you respond to the Republican criticism of the President who has been unveiling all of these initiatives in recent weeks, that this is simply a return of big government and that --
MR. MCCURRY: No, this is simply a case that they're jealous. (Laughter.)
Q They argue that taxpayers, if there is extra money lying around, they should decide how to spend their money, and not big government in Washington deciding how to spend the money.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, government as a percentage of our economy has declined as Bill Clinton has been government, and we've achieved historically the first balanced budget in 30 years. That's something that this President is proud of achieving, and we acknowledge the role that bipartisan cooperation working with Congress has played in achieving that result.
That said, the President believes that the American people want this government to use resources prudently and to use them carefully to address the real human needs that exist. Now, we've had one Republican member of Congress today who has again proposed a trillion-dollar tax cut with no indication of how it would be paid for --
Q Ashcroft, isn't it?
MR. MCCURRY: This is Archer. Or no, Ashcroft. You're right. I'm sorry, Sam, you're right. And that proposal, a trillion-dollar tax scheme with no idea of how you would pay for it, is exactly what we cannot have, the kind of fiscal irresponsibility that characterized the 1980s and the early 1990s. We need to keep on the disciplined path to a balanced budget, prudently using our resources to address human needs in the context of continuing balanced budgets. That's what this President is for, and I think he will fight very hard if the Republican Party indicates that they want to go back to the days of runaway deficits.
Q Mike, correct me if I'm wrong, but government as a percentage of our economy has not declined. The tax revenues are almost at the exact same percent as they were I think like 34 years ago.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, tax revenues --
Q At 19 point something percent.
MR. MCCURRY: Tax revenues as a portion of gross domestic product have declined I believe slightly if you account for the 1997 tax cuts, if you project forward. And in any event, that's in the context of a growing economy. When the economy is growing and the gross domestic product is increasing, naturally tax revenues increase. But government spending, spending for government as a percentage of GDP has surely declined. We can get the figures for you, and we've got them if you need them.
Q Are you suggesting that as far as educational investments are concerned, the President is going to have a new initiative to spend some more money on education, hiring more teachers?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he is going to talk about an initiative that really speaks more to the values that we have as a country when it comes to education -- why we need quality education, why we need good teachers getting through to kids in classrooms and getting them excited about the future and getting them interested in learning more so they can be productive participants in our society and our economy. That's what I expect the President to have an initiative about, and he more or less indicated that to you yesterday.
Q When is he going to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: State of the Union. January 27. Be there. Take it live, CNN. (Laughter.)
Q Do you have anything on the Census Bureau, the vacancy in the Census Bureau or what's going to happen now?
MR. MCCURRY: I do. I think we've got -- we have had a lot of respect for the work that Marti Riche has done as Director of the Census. She designed, working with other experts at the Census Bureau, and kicked off the 2000 Census plan, which many of you are aware of. We've talked about it. They have incorporated many modern technologies into the design of the census itself to capture aspects of a society that is increasingly dynamic and mobile and sometimes hard to count, and finding a successor to her will be a very high priority of the Secretary of Commerce, given the approach of the census in the year 2000.
There will be an acting director appointed so that we can assure some continuity, but the very good work she has done to prepare this country for its constitutionally mandated census is something that the President appreciates and he was deeply saddened to learn that she has elected to leave government.
Q Mike, the issue of profiling on the basis of race and ethnicity came up in the President's discussion last night. And he left the issue sort of unresolved on the table. Is there any thinking by him or people who advise him on changing the way that Customs officials and other authorities profile people based on where they're from and what they look like?
MR. MCCURRY: He listened to those concerns very carefully. I think you're correct in saying he didn't draw any judgments as to how that applies to particular policies, but you've heard him talk and remark upon often after some of these sessions his own concern about instances in which people feel like they've been unfairly or unjustly profiled. And I think that is a source of concern to the President and how it applies to any programs administered by government is something I'm sure he'll want his Advisory Board to look at and something that he, no doubt, will want to address as the initiative continues.
Q Back on the wayward tourist just for a second, would you allow a pool to get in and --
MR. MCCURRY: David, I won't. I just have thought about it, and I decided we're not going to open that up for pictures.
MR. MCCURRY: Same reason your networks don't put pictures of hooligans on the air when they run on the field.
Q Will it be closed while they clean it up?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they will keep the -- the residence will be open, the bust will be removed so that they can be examined by National Gallery personnel, and they will work pretty quickly to repair damage to the wallpaper, which didn't appear to me to be all that significant.
Q When you say "check with the Secret Service" from the standpoint of how the woman got the spray can in and all the particulars, is the President going to ask for a report from the Secret Service on this matter -- because there is a legitimate concern of security?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there is a legitimate concern, and I think the President has confidence that the Service will look at that.
Q Do you know if there is precedence for this kind of defacing of the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I asked over there. It's been rare. In the 1970s, apparently, there were some incidents. Thankfully, in recent years there have not been. And it is rare that Americans who are in the residence, that they, after all, own themselves, conduct that kind of defacement. And there are probably, gosh, millions and millions of visitors that have been there since the last time we had any incident like this, and I think it speaks well of the American people that it is awfully rare that this kind of thing happens.
Q Do you know anything of the crowd reaction, some of the people who might have seen it when she was spray-painting --
MR. MCCURRY: No doubt there were witnesses there, but I imagine that's part of -- I mean, when I was over there the Service had people there and they were investigating it as a law scene; some of the Uniformed Division people were there. So they're investigating it as a crime scene, and no doubt they took some eye-witness reports, too.
Q Mara, back to you. Spending for government as a share of gross federal spending -- federal government spending as a share of gross domestic product is the lowest it's been since 1974. Steadily declining in the last several years.
Q So what happens to all that extra tax revenue that we're -- if federal spending --
MR. MCCURRY: That is surplus. If the budget balances, then you get a surplus. That's why we've been talking about surpluses recently.
Q -- in Japan reported Hashimoto as having said in the telephone conversation with Clinton something to the effect that it is important to keep agreements with the IMF. Did they agree on that and did Japan give any indication of actions that they might take?
MR. MCCURRY: The President and the Prime Minister agreed it was important to pursue the program that the IMF has designed. They talked about the regional economy and the role that individual economies play in the regional economy. But I think they both agreed that some of the changes that governments in the region are undertaking to meet the requirements of the IMF would produce better prospects for long-term economic stability.
Q Is the President planning on meeting with his national security advisers this afternoon? There's a meeting of some --
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I think they've got a session they're going to have here. They were all here yesterday and the President saw them on Asia and talked about some other subjects, too. They're going to be over here today and I think the subject is Bosnia. But it's part -- I don't want anyone to get hepped up -- it's part of the review of decisions that we are taking in furtherance of the policy the President asked here with respect to post-June of 1998.
Q How did the President persuade Erskine Bowles to stay on?
MR. MCCURRY: Artfully. (Laughter.) No, I think Erskine addressed that himself this morning. I think it was a conversation that went on for some time. I think Erskine's thinking changed not only because of the persuasive powers of the President, but also because of the difference that Erskine himself wants to make, seeing the agenda that's developing for this year. I think Erskine just had a change of heart, in part because he's got excited about the work that lies ahead. I mean, you heard them all talk about that this morning.
Q What about yourself? Are you leaving?
MR. MCCURRY: Myself? Like many of you, I don't prefer to see my own private personnel matters discussed publicly.
Q But I'm not asking you a private question, I'm asking about the Press Secretary of the President. Are you going to stay in this administration?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a personnel decision and it's private. And if I've got anything to tell you about it, I'll tell you about at the proper time.
Q But you get to make it, don't you?
Q Will you be talking to the President soon about it?
Q Am I asking the right person, is what I'm saying?
MR. MCCURRY: Enough.
Q No, not enough until you won't give me an answer.
Q What impact will Erskine's decision to stay have on the White House staff? Will it --
MR. MCCURRY: It will -- if it was based on the reaction that he got from the senior staff this morning, which included whistling and standing ovations, I think it will have a very positive effect. I think he has provided good, steady, disciplined leadership to this staff. He's helped make possible some of the important achievements that we've already realized in 1997, first and foremost a balanced budget agreement that has now got our budgetary prospects the best they have been in a generation. And I think the excitement that he has for the President's coming agenda in this year lends enthusiasm to the rest of the staff as well.
Q But I'm sure if you stay, your staff will give you an ovation.
Q Can we just follow up on that -- what I'm asking is, does having a positive effect on the staff mean that there now will not be departures?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, can I be honest with you? Most Americans --
Q Please do. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: -- care about the President -- they care about the President, they care about what the President does, what he's thinking about, the decisions he makes. And most of the temp workers like me who are here are interchangeable. So I -- you may get interested in this --
Q No, you're not. You're indispensable.
MR. MCCURRY: You may think that these jobs are important but there are a lot of qualified people in this country to do the work. I think we ought to keep focused on what the President has in mind.
Q But I think you would get an ovation from your staff, from what I'm told of your conduct here, if you announced you were staying. It's a very legitimate question.
MR. MCCURRY: Sam, I think they would expect me to tell them before I tell you.
Q Can we go back to this defacement one more time? I understand about what you're saying about how, you know, you don't want to show this streaker running across the field or whatever, but if the President's argument is that this is the people's house, shouldn't the people be able to see the defacement of their house?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, but it's -- I'm describing it to you as vividly as I can. It's not significant, and I don't want to do anything that going to encourage someone to do something foolhardy and do likewise, David. I'm sorry.
Q This is on Asia. Are there -- what are your thoughts today on the Asian financial crisis? Is it getting better or --
MR. MCCURRY: We've had reports from Deputy Secretary Summers as he continues his journey. It is going well. There's been a lot of coordination both with international lending institutions and with other governments in the region. And I think all of those who are addressing the situation remain committed to bringing about the types of policies and seeing that those involved fulfill the commitments they've made that will bring about better prospects for long-term economic stability.
Q What happens if Congress doesn't approve the extra money for the --
MR. MCCURRY: It would be hard for me to imagine, given the importance of this, given how many millions of Americans are directly impacted by commerce in goods and services with Asia, that Congress would fail to heed the arguments that not only the administration but others in the international financial community are making about the importance of the very carefully designed program that we're pursuing. I think it would be enormously wrong if Congress decided that we could pull up the drawbridges and not stay immersed in this world economy, particularly at a time when this world economy will have increasing impact on many of the constituents of those members of Congress.
Q How does the administration plan to pay for this low-income housing tax credit expansion that the Vice President is announcing in a little while?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- did they have specific pay-fors in there?
MR. TOIV: Probably not. The budget will have specific tax provisions in it.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, but it will be part of the budget. It will be -- you'll be able to see both revenues and spending in the budget and it will be within the context of the budget proposal the President makes in February.
Q Mike, some of the reason why you will not allow the press to go over to view the problem area, is it because you're fearful of possible copycat instances?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I couldn't have made that clearer a moment ago.
Q Mike, can you say anything about reports that the deposition on Saturday is being moved out of the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to comment on that subject on instructions of counsel based on order of the court.
Q Can you say anything about charges that Bennett has broken the gag order?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that the judge has said anything to that effect.
Q Mike, NARAL today said that it was harder to get an abortion in 1997. They blamed restrictions in a variety of states on the increase. Does the President share those concerns, or is he satisfied with women's access to abortion?
MR. MCCURRY: The President continues to believe that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.
Q Is he still meeting with Democrats tomorrow, is that still --
MR. MCCURRY: I do believe they plan to meet again to kind of follow up on some of the work the President has been doing with the leadership. They've been talking about the things that make all of them excited as they pursue their agenda here, and they may even want to talk about it a little tomorrow.
Q Could you follow up, could you expand on that a little? Is that going to be a full-blown public event?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll let you know tomorrow morning at the gaggle.
Q Thank you.
Q One other question about the --
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks, Helen, for trying. (Laughter.)
Q The RNC meeting on the abortion plank, do you have any reaction to the fact that there's a split in the party with Henry Hyde and --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I will leave divisive political fights in the Republican Party to the Republicans to sort out.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:20 P.M. EST