THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start with a couple of things this afternoon. First, good news. Sally Katzen, who many of you know has been the Administrator of the Office of Management Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs -- she's been there since 1993 -- she has agreed to join Gene Sperling at the National Economic Council, and she will be Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Deputy Director of the NEC.
She for five years has played a very critical behind-the-scenes role here, managing a lot of the work that we've done to reform the regulatory process and improve its efficiency, and I think has gotten to know a lot of you, particularly those of you who are working the more technical areas. She has had a job that required not only a wide-ranging knowledge of the President's policy, but also an understanding of how the White House works and how economic policymakers go about thinking through issues related to federal regulation.
I think she's -- I describe her as something of a diplomatic when it comes to dealing with all the different interests that exist within the government, and she's learned, I think through sheer will power, how to balance out a lot of the conflicting interests that arise in government -- between government and the private sector -- and she's really mastered that art.
Now, those are all tools that I think will be very useful to her as she joins Gene. And I'll say on Gene's behalf, if you thought it was impressive that Bill Clinton retained the services of Erskine Bowles, I think it's equally impressive that Gene convinced Sally to join him on that staff, because that's -- it will be a very important assignment. She's very excited about it and I know Gene is very excited.
Item the second, I just want to let everyone know --
Q Does she replace anyone?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think so. I think it's just a reflection of a power grab by Sperling around here, obviously. (Laughter.)
Q What about you?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q What about you? Are you staying?
MR. MCCURRY: I have four deputies, so I don't need another deputy. (Laughter.) Now, on second --
Q I didn't mean were you going to be Gene Sperling's deputy, I mean, what about you staying as Press Secretary?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a subject only of interest to you apparently, Sam.
Q Well, it is.
MR. MCCURRY: I've got work to do. At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, I'd like to assemble an in-town travel pool. I think there's been some speculation on what the President's appointment that morning is, and that's most likely correct. My understanding is they will be going nearby, and that's all the detail I have for you at this point. But just so people are not imagining scenarios that they can't deal with, I just wanted to make sure that --
Q Would that presage a departure around 10:00 a.m. or something like that?
MR. MCCURRY: In that neighborhood, or just before.
Q So we don't imagine anything, just nearby mean Bob Bennett's office?
MR. MCCURRY: That's been speculated upon in the press and I'm always amazed at how good reporters are around this town.
Q And are reporters going to be allowed to cover?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that you're all familiar with what the court's rulings have been related to the content of discussion of litigation before the court, and I don't anticipate any of that's changed.
Q Well, Bennett is being quoted by Reuter -- I suppose you saw the story -- as saying that the President has no upset or trepidation about being in the same room with Ms. Jones, he faces down world leaders constantly.
MR. MCCURRY: The latter part of that I know to be true, because I've been there. The first part of that I haven't talked to the President about.
Item the third, I've got a statement from Mr. Ruff, the Counsel to the President. The Independent Counsel, Kenneth Starr, and his staff, conducted an interview of Mrs. Clinton at the White House this morning. As the President has previously announced, he and Mrs. Clinton are cooperating fully with the Independent Counsel. Mrs. Clinton voluntarily agreed when an interview was requested. The interview was conducted under oath.
The subject matter was the acquisition in 1993-'94 by the White House of certain FBI filing information concerning former White House employees. And consistent with past practice, no further statements about the content of the interview will be made at this time. Thus ends the statement by Mr. Ruff.
Q Can you tell us at least how long the interview took place?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't, although I imagine it was rather brief.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it was -- we need to double-check that. I think it was in the residence, but we'll double-check that. And it began around 11:00 a.m.
Q How long did you know about this?
MR. MCCURRY: I found out about it a short while ago, but that's consistent with the way that we've handled previous opportunities that the President has had to meet with Mr. Starr and his staff.
Q And do you know that it is in fact over?
MR. MCCURRY: It is over.
Q And Starr himself conducted this?
MR. MCCURRY: I will refer you to his office on that. There were a number of people from his office there and Mrs. Clinton's -- probably Kendall --
Q But Starr was present?
Q He was there, right?
MR. MCCURRY: He was there and people from his staff was there. The question was, did he conduct the questioning. And then there were representatives of the White House Legal Counsel Office there.
Q Why was Mrs. Clinton involved in this?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't speak to that.
Q Was Mr. Kendall there?
MR. MCCURRY: I think Mr. Kendall was there, and also representatives of the White House legal counsel.
Q Ruff, himself, or --
MR. MCCURRY: Ruff and another associate counsel from the White House Legal Counsel staff.
Any other subjects today?
Q Mr. Aziz says "lies," that we're making this up about human experiments.
MR. MCCURRY: I watched a little bit of what he said and I think that's very consistent with what the line of the government of Iraq has been in the past. I didn't, frankly, see anything new in what he was saying. And I think one of the reasons why the United Nations continues to press the inspections regime in Iraq is because of the deliberate concealment of information that they have discovered international he course of their inspections. They have found that statements from Mr. Aziz and others in the government are not only not authoritative, they are untrue and apparently in some case deliberately untrue, which is why they've continued the inspections regime that is in place.
Q I'm sorry, can you clarify as to whether the United States has any independent evidence of human testing, or whether we've reviewed any evidence at the U.N. through the inspectors and view it as credible, any threshold evidence that this is taking place?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we have any independent information, but at the same time, I think the United States would consider a serious matter some of the reports, some of the allegations that have been made. And we consider it proper that the United Nations Special Commission would want to pursue those issues.
Q Mike, the United States has known for some time that there are allegations of human experimentation. Have we not taken any trouble to find out whether we believe these? You're laying it all off on the U.N.
MR. MCCURRY: We've been fully supportive of UNSCOM on the ground in Iraq as they conduct their work, and Mr. Butler has indicated that that is a matter that they are aggressively pursuing on behalf of the United States government and all members of the world community, as perfectly appropriate.
Q Right, but the question, though, is does the U.S. have an independent assessment as to the credibility of these reports.
MR. MCCURRY: I said I'm not aware that we do have any independent assessment. And we're relying on those who are on the ground, working in behalf of the entire world community to learn the truth.
Q There are reports that no action will be taken until after Butler goes back to Baghdad and then reports back.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not true. The U.N. Security Council will be meeting today and will be considering the matter and --
Q I should have -- I meant military action. If it comes to that.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we're pursuing and increasingly exhausting the diplomatic avenues that are available, but --
Q What do you mean by "increasingly exhausting"? Are you sending a signal?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q What do you mean? May I ask you to explain?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just giving you a realistic report on our efforts. We're making determined diplomatic effort to address the matter and to resolve the matter.
Q I simply meant, surely -- is it the intention, however, to make certain that Mr. Butler's visit occurs before further military action might be contemplated?
MR. MCCURRY: You're smart enough to know I would not even speculate on that.
Q What is your basis for saying that we are increasingly exhausting diplomatic avenues?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think that we have pursued this matter, and we've always said that it's not -- this is not an endless loop in which we will just keep repeating the same episodes over and over again.
Q And once the diplomatic avenues are exhausted, what's next?
MR. MCCURRY: We will continue to pursue diplomacy, and as you've heard us say before, other options have not been ruled in or out.
Q Mike, as these diplomatic channels are being exhausted, can you outline for us what channels, specifically what channels are left, in your mind?
MR. MCCURRY: We have been pursuing this in concert with other members of the U.N. Security Council, and given that the derivative authority for the inspections to occur and the requirements on Iraq arise from the post-Gulf War resolutions of the Security Council, that will likely be the venue.
Q So what are you saying here?
MR. MCCURRY: That's where were pursuing the matter. I'm not aware that there are other channels. I mean, there are bilateral diplomacy that were pursuing in furtherance of our own objectives, but we're working at the moment on the issue at the Security Council.
Q So once all of the channels at the U.N. are exhausted, then you will consider that --
MR. MCCURRY: We would continue to work that issue aggressively through our own diplomacy, of course.
Q Two questions. Do you expect the vote today in the Security Council? Secondly, has the President been conducting any of that bilateral diplomacy?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that he has been because it's been done within the Council and the Council has been seized of the matter and has been listening to the report from Chairman Butler today, and we expect them to take it up this afternoon. Whether or not they complete action on any of the President's statement today remains to be seen.
Q You said this morning that bombing the Iraqis to oblivion might make some people feel good, but what good would it do. Does this suddenly change if there's a U.N. Security Council resolution that doesn't --
MR. MCCURRY: What I suggested is that we have a clear objective here, which is to learn what we need to know about the government of Iraq's program and activity with respect to biological weapons, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons and delivery systems for any of those weapons. That's what they are required to tell us about, required to allow inspections about under the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 687. They have not complied with that, they are deliberately obstructing the work of the United Nations, and the United Nations now is trying to figure out how they can bring pressure about to declare the objective, and that's the objective.
Q Have you taken a whip count, any count in the Senate? Senator Lott's office believes that he does know more about the tobacco tempo over there than you do.
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't taken a whip count, but we've talked to people on both sides of the aisle and talked to people who believe it is very important for the United States Congress to take action to stop kids from smoking and to work hard to put this proposed tobacco settlement into law, and we believe there is a strong majority in Congress that wants to do that. And if Senator Lott believes that that cannot happen or should not happen, he should explain why in greater detail, other than to try to blame it on Bill Clinton.
Q But that's, of course, what he's done.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we just take issue with that, and we think there are very strong allies in the effort to get a good public health policy here which will protect kids from tobacco use. And if Senator Lott does not want to be a part of that effort, then we will work with those who do, and we think that we will find plenty of takers.
Q Mike, is the administration planning a special meeting of industrialized countries to discuss the Asia crisis, ahead of G-8?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware of any. We have been working with other industrialized nations and have been in close contact with finance ministers through some of the work that people in our government are doing, but let me check and see if there has been any suggestion that there should be some kind of conference or meeting.
Q Mike, do you have any more information about the vandal yesterday, who she is or why she did what she did?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't. I kind of kicked that over to the Service, and I believe they're now referring questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which I guess tells you what the status is.
Q Mike, you said this morning you would discuss the situation with fast track. Where is the administration at with that right now?
MR. MCCURRY: We are -- obviously, with the premise that the President believes that negotiating authority is an important way for him to continue the economic progress this country has enjoyed because free and open trade has been one of the fundamental tenets of the strong we have, we've been consulting closely with both Republicans and Democrats on the Hill in an effort to determine what the best avenue is for obtaining for the President the authority he needs to negotiate those kinds of trade deals.
We fully intend to submit legislation for obtaining fast track authority, and the primary purpose of these consultations on the Hill has been to determine what for the legislation should take so that we can address the concerns that have been raised on both sides of the aisle, but especially in the House of Representatives. I think all of you know in the Senate there's strong support for free and open trade and fast track authority, and a majority of Democrats who support the President's desire to have that authority.
Q But doesn't that still leave open the possibility you might not put the legislation forward? You say you fully intend to.
MR. MCCURRY: We fully intend to proceed and we're working these consultations aggressively on the theory that we will proceed.
Q Besides the meeting with Jesse Jackson tomorrow, what else is Clinton going to be doing in New York?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got one or two private meetings and we may have an event that I think will be particularly important to those who care about law enforcement in New York City and are impressed with the effort to reduce crime in that city.
Has that come together yet, or we don't know?
MR. LOCKHART: It's not complete --
MR. MCCURRY: We may do that.
Q Giuliani has been given credit by a lot of people for lowering the crime rate in New York.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we would necessarily dispute that. There has been an aggressive effort in the city to bring down crime rates, there's been a lot of effort to promote the concept of community policing, which is something that the President clearly feels very strongly about and fought hard to get the kind of community policing effort through the Cops On The Street program that he fought for. But I think that no one would doubt that Mayor Giuliani has shown some leadership, as has the police force and others.
Q Will he be there?
Q Would the Mayor be part of such an event?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate further, given that little head-nod that I just got from Mr. Lockhart.
Q Yes, but mayors have welcomed Presidents, I mean, that's routine, from both parties.
MR. MCCURRY: It's been fairly routine that Mayor Giuliani does so from time to time when the President's in New York.
Q Mike, what does he hope to accomplish in this appearance at this Jackson forum?
MR. MCCURRY: He's very impressed with the arguments that Reverend Jackson has been making about empowerment of minorities and women in inner-city areas and how they can become the potential entrepreneurs of the future, and most importantly, the potential markets for many of this nation's leading private enterprises. The argument that Reverend Jackson often makes on Wall Street and to corporate America is, you are cheating yourselves if you do not include in your plans for the future the market potential of America's inner cities, and you have a vested interest in promoting the inclusion of minorities and women in programs that will make them more proficient in the skills they need for becoming the workers of the future, the entrepreneurs of the future and capitalizing them so they can start up businesses and it's a very, very impressive argument.
I think hearing Jesse Jackson with great fervor and passion and tout the merits of capitalism is always an interesting thing to hear. The President has heard him on that, and I think wants to respond to his message by participating in a conference that the Treasury Secretary will be at, that Chairman Greenspan will be at, that Chairman Levitt of the Exchange will be at, a number of business and corporate leaders will be at. His message will be, we've got to empower these communities so they can share in the prosperity of a growing U.S. economy.
Q Does he have any new initiatives or will he just be reviewing what he's said in the past?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll talk about some of the efforts that you are familiar with and may who a little bit of -- may preview a little bit some of the things that will be coming up in the budget, but they will be consistent with the this administration's commitment to restoring the health of America's inner cities and pursuing the kind of investment strategies that can help those communities and neighborhoods grow.
Q What are the private meetings about, holding hands with the New Yorkers who are angry that he has taken all the fundraising --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe he's going to be meeting with a leader in the Jewish community and maybe some other things, stuff like that.
Q No fundraisers?
MR. MCCURRY: No fundraising aspect to this trip that I'm aware of.
Q He backs Ms. Ferraro's bid, I take it. Although that's in the primary, so I take it he doesn't.
MR. MCCURRY: You can take it that we will honor the tradition of letting good candidates vie for that office, but she clearly is a good candidate as are some of the other rumored and mentioned candidates and announced candidates.
Q Which Jewish community leader tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll give you the full schedule and write the story for you tomorrow.
Q Some Western senators have apparently asked the White House for help. They object to some Interior Department proposal banning roads in national forests. Do you know anything about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that we have been -- I'm sorry, who did you say?
Q I understood some Western senators complained about --
Q Name one. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I know that there haven't been -- there has been some speculation that the Forest Service may be reviewing our policy and our options regarding roadless areas currently in national forests. The concern is one that is fairly obvious. We've got -- they maintain already 372,000 miles of roads, and a lot of them are in need of repair now. But the problem is that those that are poorly built and are not adequately designed and constructed can cause serious environmental damage to areas that are sometimes important habitats for wildlife, and they're obviously important to recreational users of national forests. They cause sometimes soil damage and so forth.
So anyhow, the Forest Service has been considering how they can proceed with building any new roads. They've been talking to all those who have got some stake in the economic livelihood of the forests and uses of the forests. They're not going to adopt any new roadless policies without first taking input from all interested parties, and that would presume that they would want to consult very closely with members of the Senate as well. But the concern that they've got and the reason why they are attempting to address the issue I think are well-placed.
Q Mike, a group of political leaders yesterday called for relaxing the embargo on Cuba to allow food sales. Does the administration have a position on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Have you guys got that? I forgot to take a look at that. Yes, we have a position right here. Let me read it first and see if I agree with it. (Laughter.)
Yes, what this is -- the bottom line is that we have had, because of our humanitarian concerns, we have allowed food sales under some conditions in the past. That's permitted under the Cuban Democracy Act. We've also allowed firms to export medicines, medical supplies and equipment to Cuba in that time, and we've licensed donations of over $227 million in medicines and medical supplies.
Whether or not we would work to include other types of humanitarian assistance or, for example, food is something that we do pursue consistent with the Cuban Democracy Act, and there's most likely authority under that act to take a look at.
Q Existing authority then -- you'd see what could be done under existing authority rather than supporting --
MR. MCCURRY: Existing authority and we would consult with Congress further. But a point that I would make about that is that we're talking about the conditions that arise because of the economic policies and the political authority that suppresses the people of Cuba, and the ability that they have to generate a sustenance and livelihood for themselves, which is one of the consequences of the totalitarian system that they have.
Q The FCC said today that the cable TV rates are rising four times as fast as inflation. Does it raise any concerns here? Does the White House have any thoughts on how to control those costs?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we have been following the debate about deregulation and paying attention to the conditions that consumers face, particularly in the wake of telecommunications deregulation. But let me get some more on that. I haven't looked at that particular finding or study by the FCC.
Q Any Buddy news? We haven't heard from him in a while.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I've kind of -- I think we've had enough of that. (Laughter.)
Q Can we find out how long the interview was?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me check and see if we can do something further for you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:02 P.M. EST