THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently, you all have a lot more to say than I do, so -- let me start. I want to do some notes from the Cabinet meeting the President had this morning. You've heard from some of the Cabinet Secretaries already about how the President opened the meeting, but I want to go a little bit around the table and some of the thoughts expressed, talk a little bit about the President's preview of the State of the Union, if any of you need that for the weekend.
Mr. Bowles started -- Erskine Bowles, Chief of Staff, has really been the one who has been pulling together a lot of the work the Cabinet will do in the days after the State of the Union to put some of the President's agenda before the American people and to amplify some of the specific initiatives that the President will talk about Tuesday night. So Erskine talked a little bit about that and thanked all the Cabinet Secretaries for the role that they have been playing and will play. He talked a little bit about the logistics for Tuesday and beyond.
The President then called on Secretary Rubin to give a report on the Asian economy generally and some of the work that the Treasury Department has been doing specifically with the IMF. The Treasury Secretary, by the way, talked a lot from the text of the speech that he gave at Georgetown the other day, which, if you have not looked at it, is I think a very good summary of a lot of the work the United States has been doing with respect to the Asian regional economy.
Secretary Albright then gave a report on the meetings the President has had the last several days with the Middle Eastern leaders and really said that they were now getting down to the guts of many of the issues that are fundamental in the dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and she talked a little bit about some of the work that she expects to do later today with Chairman Arafat, saying that she has a meeting tonight, I believe, with Chairman Arafat.
The President asked Frank Raines, the OMB Director, to then talk about the FY '99 budget. Frank thanked the Cabinet Secretaries for their cooperation in putting together the FY '99 budget proposal. And I think they took the opportunity to congratulate themselves on the fact that we will be proposing a balanced federal budget for the first time in 30 years when the President puts the budget in.
That's the point at which you heard from the other Cabinet Secretaries about the year 2000 problem that the President wanted each Cabinet agency to address. And Director Raines gave a bit of a jeremiad on that problem and talked about the consequences of failing to put personal attention into that effort, which they did.
Paul Begala then talked a little bit about the State of the Union set-up and some of the thematics. And the President then launched into what I thought was a pretty good preview of the speech Tuesday night; just what he was thinking about as he puts the final touches on that speech. Secretary Cohen talked about his trip to Asia -- he's just returned from Asia. And Secretaries Riley, Glickman, Shalala and Pena I think all contributed some thoughts about things in their area.
I can go back and do some more on State of the Union preview.
Q No, I'm asking about this meeting, the State of the Union meeting -- believe it or not. What did Paul Begala say about State of the Union set-up and how it would respond to all these other issues? I mean, did he talk about it in a vacuum, as if this wasn't happening?
MR. MCCURRY: That was not addressed. That question hasn't been addressed here at the White House. But they did -- the President sketched out, I think, the major areas of the speech and some of the central themes that will be in the speech. And Paul spoke more about the thematic material they want the Cabinet members to address as they go out.
And, Terry, you said you needed a little bit of that?
Q Yes, sure.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Yes, I'll do that.
Q I mean, you mentioned something this morning about a pension proposal that the President will have. Is there anything -- can you show any ankle on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Should I? Can I do that? Can I just leak it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President has been doing a lot of work on retirement income security. As you think ahead to the baby boom retiring into the next century, the requirements that will be placed on the systems of support for retirement income security extend well beyond Social Security. Social Security is a subject, of course, the President will address in the State of the Union Tuesday night, and I imagine he'll have some very important things to say on that subject.
But Social Security is not the only way people in America support themselves in retirement. It has never been designed to be the only way people support themselves in retirement, because you need to rely upon both the savings that an individual makes personally and the type of pension support, pension coverage you have from the place that you work, provided by employers.
We have done a lot of work over the last five years to shore up the private -- quasi-government insurance system that supports and insures the private sector pension funds of the private employer, employer-provided pensions. And we have also done some things to simplify the way in which you provide things like 401(k) plans, deferred compensation arrangement plans.
But what the President will say Tuesday night, and then we will be doing a little bit more -- and I can tell you ON BACKGROUND AS A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL -- is that we are going to be doing some things to make it easier for contributions to individual retirement accounts to be made by workers through payroll deduction plans at work. We're going to provide some tax credits for small businesses that establish -- define benefit pension plans, as opposed to define contribution plans in which the risk is shifted more to the individual worker. We're going to be doing things that really put more of the risk back onto the employer-provided system in defining a guaranteed future benefit, but making it simpler for employers to provide that kind of pension plan.
And we'll also have some things to talk about with respect to 401(k) plans and how they vest. Some of you may be in 401(k) plans and know now that you have to be in them for five years in order to be fully vested and get the full benefit. The problem with that is that if you don't fully vest within five years and you move to another job, you don't get to take the benefits with you. The President wants to address that.
Q But on that subject, the Cabinet members told us before the discussion began, the President did discuss the scandal surrounding him. What did he say to the Cabinet about that scandal?
MR. MCCURRY: What the Cabinet members told you.
Q Which was what? I mean, I would like to hear it from you.
MR. MCCURRY: You heard them earlier.
Q They said, if I may just follow it up, then, sir --
MR. MCCURRY: David?
Q It seems to me that what we just listened to here was a fairly elaborate effort by you and the White House to convince us that it's business as usual here. Is that what you're trying to do?
MR. MCCURRY: What you just heard from me was my own endorsement of The New York Times on the subject that most of you are interested in today. They said today that we've heard too much from press secretaries and from lawyers, and I think that's true. I don't have anything to add new to this story today.
Q Mike, has the President considered resigning over this?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q It's a serious question, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a serious question. I really want a serious question.
Q Can you give us some idea what the thinking is on when we might hear from the President?
MR. MCCURRY: As I told you this morning; no change in what I told you this morning.
Q Can you tell us how he broached the subject? I mean, did he start off --
Q We'd like to hear you tell us what the President said.
Q In his own words, sort of.
MR. MCCURRY: He started off by saying, look, I know a lot of you are wondering about this matter; I think it's very important for me to stay focused on the work that I'm doing and for you all to stay focused on the work that you're doing. And I'm going to be fine and you will be, too, and let's all hang in there -- something to that effect.
Q Did he ask for an expression of support from the Cabinet, or did they voluntarily give him one?
MR. MCCURRY: Sam, he doesn't need to do that with people who I think serve him well and respect him.
Q Will, the President address this topic in his State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's way too early to say at this point. This speech is now -- what, Tuesday night -- that's a long ways away. This story broke Wednesday morning. It does seem to me a little bit like an eternity ago, but it was quite some time ago.
Q Will he do it before the State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not predicting. I answered these questions for you this morning, Bill. I don't have anything to add.
Q Mike, you've got financial wires here today saying that stocks are lower, based on Asian financial jitters and concerns about the White House scandal.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the market was also down -- someone else told me earlier on completely untrue speculation about one of our Cabinet members. You know markets fluctuate all the time.
Q Which one? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: When I told the Cabinet member in question, he said, did the market go up or down? (Laughter.)
Q I didn't hear that story.
Q Do you have some idea what exactly is being done behind the scenes with the President and his lawyers to get answers to these questions so that he will feel comfortable addressing --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think the President is doing anything in particular behind the scenes. But the lawyers are working to assemble the material that has to be assembled in response to the Office of Independent Counsel inquiry.
Q Can you give us a sense, Mike, of how much time the President has spent with his attorneys and staff members trying to walk through his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky and his recollections of her?
MR. MCCURRY: Today, so far, as far as I know, not any -- maybe a very short period of time, but he has been doing some of the work related to the State of the Union I talked about and then doing obviously the Cabinet meeting we did. He had a short visit with the Thai Finance Minister earlier today. And I'm sure at some point this afternoon he's got to turn his attention to these matters at the proper point, but I think the lawyers are working to assemble whatever information they need for him to review before they get into it.
Q Has the President told any of his advisors the full story of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky?
MR. MCCURRY: By advisors, if that includes his attorneys, he may have. But I can't answer that because he has not with me.
Q Mike, the President seems to have this Southern hospitality type of style or gregarious way, and it maybe looked at by some as aggressive. Has he changed his style a bit and his attitude? Has he changed at all? I mean, especially with people that he likes, men and women, I was told that he would maybe put his hand on the shoulder for a while. And has he changed his attitude since this whole controversy?
MR. MCCURRY: He's the same Bill Clinton I've always known, so I haven't seen him change.
Q Mike, one of the people who has emerged in this whole Lewinsky affair is this Linda Tripp, who had a GS-15 Army Intelligence, came out as an operative of the Bush White House, was very much involved in the Delta Force operations. Doesn't her credentials and her own political activity indicate that this is really a very clearly targeted operation to discredit the President and the presidency, and that Mr. Starr, with his own connections to the -- people, is playing the role of the grand inquisitor?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't pay this guy, by the way. (Laughter.) Look, I don't know enough about her. I don't know enough about the circumstances of her involvement in this issue to address that, nor do I know that anyone at the White House does, so I think it would be highly improper for us to speculate as to motive.
Q Mike, last night George Stephanoupolos explained to us that in 1992, when we thought the President was denying an affair with Gennifer Flowers he was actually admitting it, but quibbling about the details. Can you assure us that when the President denies an affair with Monica Lewinsky it's not the same thing all over again?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe to be true everything that the President has indicated be said, and believe it is true.
Q Well, what did he say? Did he say he denied it in 1992, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I did not work for him in 1992 as some of you remember. Painfully, I remember, as well.
Q But you're not sure whether he denied it or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not even sure what he said in 1992. I was not working with him at the time. I've seen some of that report based on what the 60 Minutes transcript is, but I --
Q We'd be happy to provide you with a transcript --
MR. MCCURRY: I did answer and -- you asked and I answered these questions yesterday.
Q -- say now, Mike?
Q Mike, isn't the President a little surprised by the way the Republicans are acting on Capitol Hill? They're acting with great restrain and prudence. Is that something the President would be expecting at this time?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think the President is entirely surprised by that.
Q What's he doing this weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got some folks coming over for a movie Saturday night and got the day off Sunday.
Q "Wag The Dog"? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I do not know what movie.
Q Tell us about the visit with Jimmy Carter. Is it true that President Carter is coming today, and what's the purpose of that?
MR. MCCURRY: President Carter is coming in about 4:00 p.m. President Carter has done a magnificent amount of work as ex-President, through the Carter Center in Atlanta, at conflict resolution and at bringing together people who are facing turmoil in different parts of the world. He's been especially active in Africa. And former President Carter was just recently in Africa. With the President's trip coming up to Africa in March, that we've just recently announced, it's a good opportunity for the two Presidents to discuss Africa. And I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that former President Carter has been in China, too, and I imagine that the President will want to consult with him and ask his thoughts on U.S.-China relations.
Q What's the coverage? Are we going to have to stand in the rain, or is he going to have to stand in the rain?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll inquire of President Carter's staff when he comes if he wishes to be available.
Q Mike, what's the message from the White House to Democrats who are worried about the impact of this controversy on fundraising, near and short-term, and on collateral damage to the party itself in this midterm election year?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will have some opportunity to address that. But what people on the staff have done, in their reaching out to people on the Hill, is to remind them that we're dealing with a story that broke Wednesday morning; that there's an awful lot more to learn about the story; that while many people, courtesy of all of you, are free to express opinions and judgments on these matters on the airwaves, there's still a lot more to be done before judgments ought to be made. And I think the President and the White House will ask of them that they wait until we have an opportunity to more thoroughly and completely address the matters. And then let people make judgments as they see fit after that.
Q Might that be over the weekend, Mike?
Q To follow up, please -- are these legitimate concerns on their part?
MR. MCCURRY: The President described them as legitimate questions yesterday, so, of course.
Q Mike, accepting for a moment the President's contention that the allegations are completely untrue, is anyone in the White House working with the President to bring up on charges of libel or defamation of character against Monica Lewinsky or any of those involved, or is that an option?
MR. MCCURRY: I think lawyers right now are working to assemble the factual record that will be necessary to cooperate fully with the Office of Independent Counsel and then to provide the President answers to questions that he no doubt has as well.
Q Mike, why hasn't the Vice President been more vocal in his support of the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it just hasn't been getting covered. He has been and he got some coverage yesterday and I'm sure he'd be happy to be as vocal as you want him to be.
Q Have you been advised, and other staff members who are not lawyers, that you ought not to discuss this with the President because, as I understand it, the lawyer-client privilege would not pertain to you?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I haven't been advised of that, but that is my normal operating practice in dealing with something like this. As I told you the other day, I don't -- on matters like this that are going to be under investigation, I think it could conceivably jeopardize the legal representation the President is entitled to, so I choose not to ask him directly about these things and rely on what counsel tell me. And then we work with the President to figure how we're going to respond to questions.
Q Well, I asked you because you brief us and the public, and if you are not able actually to ask the President these pertinent questions, and if he does not feel he can give you certain answers because of the problem of a non-lawyer-client privilege, where does that leave us?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it leaves you in the same position you have always been in when there are matters like this that are being pursued by outside investigators. It's more likely that the investigators are going to get the answers to questions before the press often does. That's not been dissimilar in other events.
I'd be remiss in not saying that part of this is just self-serving on my part, because I, frankly, would prefer that I work with the Counsel's Office to get the information, but, as I did earlier in the week, I like to verify that information and then talk to the President about it before I brief.
Q Isn't the President anxious to get this done sooner, rather than later?
MR. MCCURRY: He said so yesterday, Bill.
Q How can we think this scandal that involves the President will affect the image of the United States globally?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been commentary in other foreign capitals already on that. And I think that sometimes foreign countries look at the American political system and incidents like this and don't really understand why we do this to ourselves.
Q Mike, I know you covered some of this this morning, but to what extent is there debate, dispute, among the senior staff about how to handle this, and has there been shouting matches that have been reported?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I checked around with -- I haven't necessarily been in each and every meeting, but I haven't found anyone who says there were any shouting incidents. And I've actually been, myself, talking pretty extensively to the legal counsel and some of the President's private attorneys about what we should do next with respect to this story, and have found them to be not only amicable, but very anxious to support the objectives that some of us are stressing. They just have responsibility because they are lawyers to look to the legal rights that the President has and, more importantly, the legal rights that the institution of the presidency has in our system. And I think that's perfectly proper that we balance out those interests and decide how to proceed.
I think the attitude here is the President wants to speak to the American people on these questions and he wants to get it done, but we want to get it done right and get it done correctly.
Q He's not being told not to do that by his lawyers?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. I think they're telling him that he should do it in a way that is consistent with his obligation to cooperate with the Office of Independent Counsel and also consistent with handling this in the most thorough and complete manner possible.
Q Mike, back to the Cabinet meeting. Did Secretary Cohen indicate that he will have any more formal initiatives to cut more fat out of Pentagon budget, either in civilian or military personnel or with respect to some of the major weapons that are planned for the next century that critics say aren't really necessary?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not address that question. A point he did make that I thought was interesting, based on his trip to Asia, was that he was surprised at how dramatic the benefits of this administration's policies with respect to fiscal discipline are, when you travel overseas and get an entirely different reception from leaders in a region like Asia, as they look to the United States both for economic leadership, in addition to the kind of security leadership that they've always relied upon the United States for. And he said that was a point that he was struck by, confirming something the President said earlier in the meeting about the interdependence we now have with other countries around the world.
Q Mike, when you said that you weren't around in 1992 to comment on the what the President's denials then meant, what do you think the President's denials this time mean about whether he had any sexual encounter --
MR. MCCURRY: David, we went through this as much as I can possibly do it yesterday. You know that.
Q Does the President feel that his expectations were fulfilled this week in his meetings with Netanyahu and Arafat?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q Were his expectations fulfilled in terms of what was accomplished with the meetings this week? What's his assessment of them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think you heard me prior to the meetings describe the expectations as being rather low. But the President feels fairly confident that he got both of these leaders to focus in on some of the specific choices they are going to have to make if they're going to bridge the considerable distance between them on issues like security measures for the State of Israel, like further redeployment from areas in the West Bank, like the accelerated final status negotiations for the issues that the parties have identified between them, and like the issue of settlements and the future of settlements in the West Bank territories.
It is not unexpected that both of these leaders, we think, will leave Washington -- and, of course, Chairman Arafat will see Secretary Albright later today -- but we think both of them will leave Washington with a great deal to ponder and to consider and to consult with others about in their own communities as they contemplate the decisions they're going to have to make in the future. But I think based on the work we've done we feel like progress is there to be made if these parties can wrestle with and make the critical decisions they now need to make.
Q What is the radio address about?
MR. MCCURRY: The radio address is going to be about Medicare and particularly the good work the administration has done to combat Medicare waste, fraud, and abuse. And that, obviously, as you know, will be a major element of the President's State of the Union address Tuesday night, too.
Q Do you think there is any chance that we will not hear from the President on this while the investigation is ongoing?
MR. MCCURRY: I find that -- I personally consider that unlikely, but we're just not in a position where we can answer with any more clarity yet.
Q Mike, does the President agree with Mr. Bennett's characterization that he smells a rat and that Starr may have gone too far?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we did the rat here the other day, didn't we. We already did the rat.
Q Did you just say it's unlikely to hear from him while the investigation is going on?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. I said I personally thought it was unlikely that he would delay addressing this during the course of the investigation, which is what she asked.
Q Some of the early -- some of the polls on this indicate that the public is as much confused as anything else, willing to suspend judgment for some time. How much longer do you think that patience will last?
MR. MCCURRY: I was going to say that the polls, for exactly that reason, that you might see, I think are going to be pretty unreliable. I think the American people are trying to wonder out what's going on here and they want to know what the President has to say on it. I think the President wants to tell them. I think at the proper time he will. And I think that will be a more proper time to figure out what the American people think about the whole thing.
Q How long can you expect the public to wait? How long is reasonable to have these kind of questions hanging?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President clearly would like to do it, but I think he also needs to make sure that he can do it in a way that's satisfactory to them so he can be complete and thorough and answer the questions they have. And it's -- since you're their surrogate, it amounts to satisfying you and all your questions.
Q Can you tell us how many White House staffers have received subpoenas in this matter? And also, it's my understanding that some of these West Wing staffers, people with access to that area, the Oval Office area, have been interviewed by the internal, the White House legal staff about their recollections of Monica Lewinsky. What would that be for?
MR. MCCURRY: John, I cannot because a White House staffer is under no obligation to inform White House legal counsel if they have been served with a subpoena. Sometimes they do. And when they do, I think the counsel would know. But the counsel has taken the position that it is -- protects the rights of the individual people who are on the staff to have their own legal representatives advise you and the public of whether or not they've been subpoenaed. So I'll leave it to them.
Q Could you tell us which ones you know about?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know of any, to be candid with you. I've seen reports about Betty Currie, but I don't even know whether that is accurate or not.
Q Mike, you've been asked this in the past, but how has this present scandal affected your future plans?
Q Are you leaving?
MR. MCCURRY: It made it a little bit impossible to think about, to be honest with you.
Q Mike, in the effort to put together the facts -- what is it that is time-consuming about that? Can you give us a little better idea of why it is that that's taking time?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the kind of thing I indicated I think to some of you in the gaggle this morning. There are extensive records -- just, example: a lot of you have asked questions about her comings and goings in the time that she was working at the Pentagon and no longer working here. You have to go back and reassemble those records and understand what that was all about and verify, in fact, the accuracy of the records, because we have found in the past that sometimes these records are not entirely accurate as to when people show up and when people leave.
So they're assembling that kind of information, the kind of information that the independent counsel is going to want to see. And they do -- back to your question, John -- they do then have to see if anyone has any specific recollection of things that might be related to some of the information that they assemble. And all that work is going forward now and going forward quite promptly so that we can get it done and make it available in due course.
Q How much longer --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- I mean, we've got to get it done and get it done right. And they're going to take the time to get it done right, and I can't predict for you how long that's going to be.
Q But does he have to wait, though, Mike? Does he have to wait until all of that is done or --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he wants to be able to give as thorough and complete a set of answers as he can. When that will be, I don't know. Would he like to do it sooner than later? Yes, he told you that yesterday.
Q I was wondering if there was concern among some of his staff -- not the legal staff, but his other staff -- there is beginning to be an appearance that the President is trying to figure out some sort of what the story will be, because there are plenty of things that he ought to be able to remember.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, he's done three interviews. He has talked to his Cabinet. He has made it very clear, with respect to his own actions, that he's denying these specific allegations. So as far as him, he has answered the questions that are instantly most relevant. You're asking a lot of questions related to lots of other things, related to this woman and her associate and other aspects of this -- I think there's a lot more out there that I don't think the President would have a clue about, to be candid, that we're going to find out if the White House and the President are going to be able to make a thorough and complete response.
Q How would you describe the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Betty Currie?
MR. MCCURRY: I won't describe it until we're in a position to do that in the proper venue.
Q Mike, in the 1992 campaign, the Clintons discussed their marriage and the problems in their marriage with probably more openness than any presidential candidate ever had in history. Many in the public interpreted that, those conversations that they had then, as an implicit pledge that whatever problems they had in the past there would be no future extramarital involvements. Did they interpret that, those statements by the President, correctly? And is it the President's conception that a proper role of the President would preclude any kind of extramarital relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: I never talked to the President on those matters, so I wouldn't attempt to reflect his views. I think the answers are probably pretty obvious, but I just have never talked to him about it.
Q Mike, you had some very specific language yesterday on the Gennifer Flowers thing. Certainly you know what it was intended to mean. Was he denying it in 1992 or was he confirming it?
MR. MCCURRY: Asked and answered yesterday and --
Q You never answered that question.
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q You never asked the question, was he denying it in '92.
MR. MCCURRY: I gave you the answer as best that I could make it available yesterday. I can't add to it.
Q Mike, this is about a different matter. I would like to confirm if the White House did, indeed, send to the Mexican government a request of approval of Jeffrey Davidow to be the next Ambassaor of Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Have we done it yet? I can't confirm it at this point. Certainly, from everything that you've seen and read you know how highly the President thinks of Assistant Secretary Davidow. He would be a superb Ambassador to address I think what is one of the most complicated, but most important relationships the United States of America has, given our contiguous border, and all the other reasons why we cooperate in the atmosphere. He has proven his adroitness when it comes to diplomacy in the region and his expertise when it comes to matters that we deal with in U.S.-Mexican relations.
That aside, I can't confirm that he's going to be the next Ambassador to Mexico.
Q On the State of the Union, which Cabinet Secretary will hang back, and are they going to fan out across the country on Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: We never put that out until the night of the speech.
Q Are they going to fan out on Wednesday to spread the word?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's part of what they talked about in the --
Q Mike, Secretaries Albright and Shalala were very visible after the Cabinet meeting. How much do you think this damages the President's credibility with women?
MR. MCCURRY: I think women are like men and like most Americans, and maybe like some of you -- (laughter) -- and maybe -- maybe like some of you and that they will wait before they rush to make any judgments.
Q -- possible alternative information -- why can't --
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q If there is some plausible alternative explanation, which is what everybody is asking for --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a disingenuous question, Karen, because you know how complicated are the issues that you've been reporting on, that others have been reporting on. And so we have got to be in a position to have a very complete set of answers. If we walked out and sort of just had, well, here's some plausible theory of how this could have happened or how this could have occurred, I think that would be highly irresponsible to do that without having a factual basis to do it. You would be asking us to make up things.
Q But Mike, can't you just say whether this will be a matter of days, a matter of weeks, a matter of months?
MR. MCCURRY: I cannot. We clearly prefer that it be a matter of minutes.
Q Mike, do you think that it's possible for the President to deliver an effective State of the Union address if he has not addressed this subject first?
MR. MCCURRY: Is it possible? Sure.
Q Is it probable?
MR. MCCURRY: Would me, given my oratory skills, try it? No. (Laughter.)
Q What is there about the complexity of these issues --
MR. MCCURRY: I've answered that already.
Q -- what he did and what he knows?
MR. MCCURRY: I have gone through that and explained to you what some of the complexity --
Q Mike, Richard Butler told the Security Council that he basically got stiffed in Baghdad this week. The British are saying that U.N. credibility is on the line. You've talked about serious consequences. Is this a day for more condemnation from the Security Council or is it the end of the road for --
MR. MCCURRY: Today, as Ambassador Richardson has already indicated, to very carefully contemplate the next steps that must be pursued. We clearly will do that both within and without -- within and outside the Security Council. The Security Council will likely -- I think Mr. Butler's report is probably done by done, so they're probably now considering his report and judging what the most direct and most immediate response, and the most appropriate response should be. And the United States is prepared, both within the Security Council, and as I say, outside the Security Council, to begin to pursue next steps.
Q To follow up to that, will President Clinton want to talk directly with Ambassador Butler about this latest trip?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the President is satisfied that Chairman Butler will give a thorough report to the Security Council, and I think he will be satisfied with the report he gets from Ambassador Richardson, who of course will have heard Mr. Butler's report.
Q Back on the State of the Union, has the President done the rehearsal session in the family theater yet? And, in Tuesday night's speech, which you said is mostly complete, does he envision making any kind of acknowledgement about these charges against him now?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I said earlier I think it's too early to know. We won't know until Tuesday, likely, what the environment is for giving the speech. And that I think would be the thing that would affect that question the most. The President is probably -- was going to sometime either earlier this afternoon or later this afternoon try to start doing some work at the podium on the speech, just working through the speech. And I imagine if it happens, it will probably happen later in the afternoon.
Q Has any member of the President's security detail been questioned either by the President's attorneys or by the Office of Independent Counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that.
Q Is that a proper line of questioning for --
MR. MCCURRY: I would really have to direct that to the Secret Service and to the Treasury Department to see if they want to take that question up.
Q Mike, the President and First Lady have often said in the past that Mr. Starr's inquiry is driven by ideology, partisanship. Is that still their belief? And do they think he overstepped his bounds in expanding the investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I don't want to comment on their beliefs on that. I think if I said anything in this environment it might be misinterpreted, and I don't think that's fair to either of the Clintons to do.
Q Will the President be talking with any members of the Congressional Black Caucus between now and Tuesday in light of the plan to picket on --
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't be surprised if he talks to some members. He doesn't have any plan to see the entire Caucus.
Do you want to do week ahead and call it a day? And by the way, we've got one or two papers short of a lid for the day, but we expect that before too long with the exception of the embargoed radio address.
Oh, yes, we have got, to accompany the President's radio address tomorrow on Medicare, we're going to do an embargoed briefing with Chris Jennings at about 5:30 p.m. here, so we'll be doing --
MR. TOIV: And Secretary Shalala.
MR. MCCURRY: And Secretary Shalala. So they'll both be here and they'll talk about that.
Q What specifically? Is this more about the buy-in plan, or what is the --
MR. MCCURRY: It's about Medicare and Medicare waste, fraud, and abuse. Be there. But that will accompany the other thing.
Week ahead? State of the Union address, obviously, is the major focus of the week.
Q Nothing Monday, right?
Q What's he going to do for the Super Bowl?
MR. MCCURRY: The Super Bowl, he plans just to be in, apparently. He had no plans. He's got guests and friends coming over for the movie tomorrow night, but he plans to just be in for the Super Bowl.
Q What is the movie?
MR. MCCURRY: By the way, you ought to check out, Shalala and Pena had a lot of fun goofing around on a bet, since she's from Wisconsin and he's from Colorado.
Q What is the movie? Do you announce those things?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me double-check that. I'm not absolutely sure I know for a fact. Of course, if someone told me what it was, since I never get to see movies anyhow, I'd say what's -- neither here, nor there.
Let's see. Monday, monday, monday. Do you want to do this? Come on. You guys still alive? Want to go on live TV? Come on. All right, let me do this real quick. We've got Tuesday, obviously, he gives his speech. We'll be doing a lot of, on Monday and Tuesday, some combination of our standard routine of briefings and we'll see how much attention we can get paid to that. (Laughter.)
And then we will go to the University of Illinois campus at Champagne-Urbana on Wednesday. The President will speak to some of the themes that he will identify in the speech and I think try to put a little more focus on some of the specific -- man, that's a live camera -- (laughter) -- put some focus on some of the elements of the speech. I think it's no surprise that given the focus the President will place on education in the speech Tuesday night that that will likely be the general subject when he's at the University campus.
The President then later that day goes to LaCrosse. He'll talk at an outdoor site by the riverfront, along the Milwaukee River. And, again, that will be more about probably lifting out some of the economic themes from the speech. By the way, we anticipate a 8:30 p.m. departure, a 9:30 p.m. arrival back here on Wednesday, for those of you traveling.
Q Is that the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, on Thursday, we've got the annual CINCS dinner. Remember how the President has all of his major operational and theater commanders in every year -- I think twice a year? Twice a year. He meets with them during the day and generally has a dinner at night. Are they doing the dinner too, with spouses? So that will happen on Thursday. I think the President will go over to Fort McNair for that.
And then Friday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors will be in town and we're going to do something with respect to the mayors, but we have not figured out what yet. Friday afternoon, the Detroit Red Wings will be here, as previously announced.
That is the week ahead. Why do I suspect that will not be exactly what we will be doing next week?
Q Can you give us an idea of how big the tax credit is going to be for small businesses? For the one person who's writing the story. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You think you're the only one? (Laughter.) You're the only one that will that that leaked story and do something with it? (Laughter.) Why don't you call me? Let's do a test. Call me. Bloomberg is going to get this leak. They deserve this leak. (Laughter.)
Q I thought that was mine.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, you want -- you thought you had it exclusive?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay.
Q -- on speech prep?
MR. MCCURRY: It was for you, Terry. It was for you, too, Helen.
Q Were you going to give us a list of the people he was going to have in on Saturday? Do you have that?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We don't -- Sam, when he has private guests into the residence, we just leave the Clintons alone and we don't pursue that.
Q Mike, both you and Secretary of State Albright said that some hard decisions need to be made by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat. From his meeting with the two leaders, is it the President's impression that these two leaders are ready to make these decisions for peace?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that they are in a position to make those and they ought to be ready and they could be ready, and the President hopes they will be ready.
Q Does the President believe they will make them?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes for the future of the process and for the sake of peace in the region, they do make them.
Q Was Frank Raines the only person who talked about the Year 2000 situation this morning? Did any of the Cabinet officials address that --
MR. MCCURRY: Good question. I'm glad you -- The Vice President addressed that and said that he had been looking into this -- our favorite techno-nerd on campus. (Laughter.) No. I can't call the Vice President a techno-nerd.
Anyhow, he has. He actually has looked into this and has done a fair amount of work on it. And the President also re-emphasized the importance of what Director Raines said. Director Raines more or less said that the OMB was making it clear to Cabinet agencies that Cabinet Secretaries were personally responsible for getting on top of the problem. And the Vice President said that one member around that table would probably get singled out when the clock turns and the calendar turns as being the one who failed to address the problem effectively. And no one wanted -- they wanted to play musical chairs and make sure they didn't end up in that seat.
Q Will you have any celebrities in the family box?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently he didn't say that exactly.
I'm sorry. Say again.
Q Would you characterize the Vice President as taking operational responsibility on the Year 2000 problem?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe -- well, I believe he's followed it very carefully, but OMB has been working very closely with Cabinet agencies on that. I'd characterize OMB as being more -- having worked directly with agencies and having been in the position to do the oversight and review of Cabinet agencies on how effectively they are dealing with the program. And obviously, Director Raines presentation was to the effect that some Cabinet agencies have not been particularly effective in figuring out how to get on top of the problem.
Q Despite the assignment of responsibility on that issue, is that something the President has confidence is going to be headed off? I mean, there are still some pretty dire predictions about what's going to happen --
MR. MCCURRY: It's a source of very great concern to both the President and the Vice President. As the Vice President said, it's -- it is clear now that there will be some level -- or some degree of problem on the day January 1st, 2001, but minimizing that disruption so that it does not have any real dramatic -- January 1st, 2000. But minimizing that impact both on government, on the private sector, on individual owners of computers is very important to do, and that it was something that needed to have a very urgent set of actions on behalf of government.
Q Any celebrities in the family box on State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll not be in a position I think to brief on guests at the State of the Union until -- we customarily don't do that until the day of speech anyhow, so we'll try to do that sometime on Tuesday.
Q How about the length question? Any estimation on the length of the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has traditionally spoken for about an hour, and that, we know from the work we do, is about right for the American people.
Q -- President Carter's meeting with President Clinton, you said that his visits to Africa and China -- to report on his trips. I'd like to know whether President Carter is going to play a crucial role between the U.S. and North Korea?
MR. MCCURRY: While we value very much his expertise, his wisdom, the status of U.S.-Sino relations is now such that at high levels we exchange routinely visitors. Of course, Secretary Cohen was just there and met with Defense Minister Chi. That is the type of exchange that allows us to have very good positive bilateral exchange of views with the People's Republic. So I do not see former President Carter playing any role as an envoy. But, obviously, his judgments, his own experiences, his own conversations will be of intense interest to the United States.
Q Do you believe that U.N. condemnation of Saddam Hussein's behavior has any effect on his behavior, especially considering Butler's report? And do you believe that another such resolution would make such a difference?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, over time -- in fact, every time Saddam Hussein has, when faced with some moment of truth, backed down and has remained in the sanctions box in which he currently lives. He has now stretched the patience of the international community, and they are in the process of responding, and we'll see where it goes from there.
Q You said on Iraq that this is going to be a day to very carefully consider the next step to be pursued. Does the possible next step include military action by U.S. military forces?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we have been very careful not to rule in or rule out future options. But the diplomatic solution that we prefer has so far failed to yield the results we expect.
END 2:16 P.M. EST