THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:14 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Why do I get the feeling there's like millions of people looking at their television sets saying, why are they interrupting my soaps for this guy who never says anything? Anybody got an answer to that?
Q You're so photogenic.
MR. MCCURRY: Listen. What I want to do -- we've got -- earlier today you heard the President at the event on after-school child care talk a little bit, or give you a sneak preview of some of the things in the State of the Union address tomorrow night on education, part of -- I think it's accurate to say, a centerpiece of what the President will argue tomorrow night as he makes the case of why the state of the Union is strong and what we need to do to make it stronger still in the 21st century. A very key part of that is going to be what we need to improve education, because that's going to be a key that unlocks opportunities for millions of Americans as we think about the next century.
The President outlined, just to remind you, the first national effort to reduce class size, building on experience that he had in Arkansas, reducing class size, and the President said we're going to, over the next seven years, bring 100,000 more teachers into America's classrooms for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades, so we can get the size of elementary school classes down from, I think, from roughly 22 now down to 18.
The President also indicated that over the next 10 years he will propose a $10 billion school modernization bond initiative which will allow the federal government to provide tax credits to local school districts, particularly in poor areas, that are going to need to do construction and modernization of their plant facilities. It doesn't make sense to have smaller classrooms if you can't create a physical facility at schools that will accommodate that.
And then, lastly, building on something the President announced at the Akron Town Hall on Race, when he talked about educational opportunity zones, the President is going to say, and we are going to propose, that over the next five years we spend $1.5 billion in a major educational reform effort that will do things like ending social promotions, just passing kids endlessly from one grade to the next without meeting certain quality standards.
Now, knowing that you're all here because there's other things you want to talk about, and I'm happy to do that, I want to check first -- Bruce Reed, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy here; Bob Shireman, Senior Policy Advisor at the NEC; Michael Cohen, who's the President's Special Assistant for Education Policy -- they have spent a lot of time with Education Secretary Dick Riley working on this, and see if any of you want to talk to them first.
Q Mike, can you explain a little bit more about the idea of the tax credit for school construction? Right now any school district can issue bonds where the interest is already federally tax deductible. What else --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this will be actually a federal tax credit to I think up to 100 school districts who will actually be able to get the bonding authority under this program to issue those types of bonds. But that is a very difficult area.
Bob Shireman, for the NEC, can tell you more about that feature.
MR. SHIREMAN: This would be a total of $22 billion, or just under $22 billion in bond authority. These are a new type of bond where school districts and states would pay zero interest on the bonds. The tax credits themselves are in lieu of an interest payment on the bond. This builds on something that was included in last year's tax bill, something called qualified zone academy bonds, which is an innovative school-business partnership sponsored by Mr. Rangel in the House.
Q Could you explain more about your qualified bonds?
MR. SHIREMAN: The qualified zone academy bonds are for innovative school-business partnerships. The budget, the President's budget will propose increasing those by $2.4 billion and propose creating a new bond for school construction and renovation, which is just under $20 billion in bonds. The total cost to the Treasury is $5 billion over five year, more than $10 billion over 10 years, so more than twice what we had proposed last year.
MR. MCCURRY: Note to stations down the line: we're now returning you to your regularly scheduled program. (Laughter.)
Q Aren't the Republicans the first to propose 100,000 teachers?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The concept of 100,000 is chosen, not coincidentally, because it builds on the same thing we did with COPS, with the community policing concept, where the President pledged to put 100,000 cops in the street to fight crime, which we are well on the way to doing now. So the figure 100,000 was not chosen idly by the administration, nor would I presume was it chosen idly by Congressman Paxon, who has got the right idea of what the objective is, but he has a very wrong-headed way about how we would go to pay for such a proposal, since it would take the support that we need for public education back to the days when the Republicans were trying to dismantle or do away with the Department of Education and discontinue the kind of support we need for a national effort to build quality in our schools.
Q Let me ask you this. Does the President plan to provide more detailed answers to the questions that are out there?
MR. MCCURRY: Certainly.
Q And when?
MR. MCCURRY: At the proper point.
Q -- no time determined yet?
Q Mike, we saw a different President Clinton out there today. On Wednesday and Thursday he was quite relaxed when he answered; today he was very adamant, very emphatic. Does this mean a new change of strategy, is the White House on a counterattack?
MR. MCCURRY: He must have Denver in the Super Bowl -- I don't know.
Q Mike, the President was very precise in saying that he had no sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. The dictionaries define sexual relations as sexual intercourse. Did the President mean to say to the American people that he had not sexual intercourse?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President was very straightforward in his comment, and I'm not going to dignify the question. I think every American that heard him knows exactly what he meant with the question. He didn't leave any ambiguity in it whatsoever.
Q Mike, when can we expect --
Q Mike, he meant no sexual encounter whatsoever?
MR. MCCURRY: He said, I did not have any sexual relations with that woman -- he couldn't have been clearer.
Q Mike, did he mean no sexual encounter whatsoever?
MR. MCCURRY: David, I called on April. I'll come back to you at some point down the road -- maybe.
Q What can we expect from the First Lady this week when she goes on television talking about this incident?
MR. MCCURRY: She's going to talk about -- she no doubt will be asked about it, but I think she wants to talk about things that the President will talk about tomorrow night to help this country prepare for and celebrate the arrival of a new century and a new millennium. The First Lady and her staff have been very heavily involved in that and I think she wants to talk specifically about some of the work she's been doing in that area; plus the President's child care initiative. Everyone knows that the First Lady has been very heavily involved in developing some of the work we've done on child care and she will no doubt want to talk at greater length about that.
Q Mike, as the President goes before Congress and the country tomorrow night to talk about the state of the Union, what, after all that has happened in the past week, would you say is the state of the Clinton presidency?
MR. MCCURRY: The state of the presidency is quite obvious to all of you -- that we are facing a lot of difficult questions, but the state of this Union is strong. And that's what the President is going to be talking about tomorrow night.
Q I have two questions about the process of answering subpoenas. Is it correct that the subpoena that came from the independent counsel is going to be answered by providing the material first to David Kendall, the President's private attorney?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that, Sam. I believe that the subpoena was served on the White House; it's the White House's obligation to be responsive and that would be done through the Legal Counsel's Office. But I'll check further for you on that. I'll check. And feel free to call Chuck Ruff's office on that point, too.
Q The second question, if I may -- is it correct that the President is invoking, or will invoke, executive privilege for papers and material requested under the Paula Jones case?
MR. MCCURRY: I've heard no discussion to that effect, myself, but I would direct you to Mr. Bennett, his attorney. I haven't heard of that issue arising in their work on that case.
Q Mike, the President denies any sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Why is it so hard then to simply explain to the American public what was the nature of their friendship, their relationship? Why is that such a difficult question to answer?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not difficult. I just don't think it needs to be done here.
MR. MCCURRY: Because the President has been very straightforward and very clear about what he said, and I think most Americans heard him and they know exactly what he means. And I don't want to get into a description of different permutations on what is very clearly an unambiguous statement.
Q But, Mike, in spite of the President's strong denial today, there are still all of these unanswered questions, this is still out there, and it's something you're going to have to deal with sooner or later. Will it be sooner or will it be later?
MR. MCCURRY: If the American people believe, after what the President said today, there are additional questions that they want to have answered and addressed, I think the President will properly, as he has indicated he wants to do at the proper time, respond. But there are legal proceedings underway now in at least two different venues, and I think it's important for those matters to run their course.
Q You said that the President will certainly answer more questions. Does he believe that there are more questions, or does he believe he has handled it now --
MR. MCCURRY: I think your list of questions is fairly endless at this point. And I think the President has indicated to you publicly that there are legitimate questions. I think the President tried to be as clear as he could in addressing exactly what he said today.
Q Because of the impact of the lawyers' advice?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of different questions that at some point the President knows he has to address. There will be venues for doing that. You've got an investigation underway that presumably will help underpin the truth of what the President has said earlier today and, obviously, the court case is still underway.
Q Mike, how can the President avoid bringing this up in the State of the Union address when so many people will be watching and certainly this is on everybody's mind?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the President, obviously, believes that he addressed it very squarely today and asked the American people to hear him. And, secondly, he is required by the Constitution to report on the state of the Union, and that is the state of the country in which of all us live; and talking about what all of us can do together as we think about our future. I don't think he portends that this opportunity in front of Congress tomorrow night ought to be about him, personally -- it's about all of us as Americans. And I think that's what he wants to devote his attention and his focus to.
Q Mike, has the White House completed its review of Ambassador Butler's report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? And if it has, what's your response or reaction?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have, as you know, within the confines of the Security Council, assessed the report given by Chairman Butler. It was an extremely discouraging report. Mr. Butler essentially said the that U.N. Special Commission that's supposed to be out there monitoring activity in Iraq's programs related to weapons of mass destruction is no longer in a position to do its work in Iraq. That is a very serious and troubling matter.
There will be steps that the United States will take in coming days to both consult with our friends on the Security Council, to consult with governments outside the U.N. process, and to develop the additional steps that will be required to assure the world that Iraq is not maintaining programs and biological chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the entire world.
Q Do you have confirmation that Iraq is, in fact, manufacturing at least two more warheads a week for chemical and biological warfare?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on the nature of the report that Chairman Butler has given. He has spoken in very direct terms, reflecting his own scientific and technological expertise and the scientific and technological expertise of his team. And making a precise evaluation of the capacity of that program is something I think that is right now at the moment a matter of intelligence that I just can't share.
Q Following up on Randy's question, does that mean that the President won't acknowledge the situation in any way tomorrow night in his State of the Union address?
MR. MCCURRY: His plans right now are to go ahead and give the speech tomorrow night that he has been working hard to prepare. He does not at the moment have plans to do that, and I consider it rather unlikely that he will. But tomorrow night is still, in news cycle terms, a long ways off.
Q Mike, James Carville yesterday said on Meet the Press that the friends of the President are declaring war on independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Does this have the full backing of the President or the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: One can easily understand Mr. Carville's anger, but I don't think this is about declaring a war or anything like that.
Q -- that Starr has been violating the secrecy that he is supposed to operate under? You alleged that this morning.
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't allege anything of the sort. I said -- merely pointed out that reading the newspapers this morning, it's quite clear that some newspapers are citing law enforcement sources as having provided information that comes from grand jury proceedings. Now, if I understand correctly, not being a lawyer, that is a violation of Rule 6(C) of the Code for Criminal Prosecution. So somebody is doing what they're not supposed to do.
Q Do you know that there are reports that the independent counsel is searching for witnesses who may have seen a sex act between the President and Ms. Lewinsky. What does the White House know about that?
MR. MCCURRY: As I've indicated to a number of you, we're not aware of any such reports. The President's denial is quite clear that there couldn't have been that type of encounter. We've checked even with people who would have presumably been brought a report of any incident of that nature and they categorically deny there was such an incident. So I think this is a case where there was a story -- it looks like it was manufactured based on some allegation that was unsupported. And then we all spent a lot of time yesterday trying to chase it down and knock it down.
Q Mike, is the President going to ask Congress for permission to send troops to Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will be discussing with our allies the correct next steps to take. We have not ruled out --
Q No, I'm not talking about the allies, I'm talking about Congress.
MR. MCCURRY: We have not ruled out military options, and we would consult very closely with the Congress and have been consulting very closely with the Congress as we anticipate our next additional steps with respect to Iraq.
Q Doesn't he have to get permission from Congress to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: He's the Commander-in-Chief and can exercise his authority as Commander-in-Chief. But in this matter we have very carefully and in a very disciplined way consulted with Congress.
Q Congress declares war --
Q A question about the State of the Union. The other day you said that the President is well aware that the American people might have a lot of questions on their minds that will make it hard for them to concentrate on everything he has to say. What I'm wondering is, is the President convinced that he's going to have the public's full attention to the policy part of the speech, such that he feels no need at all to address the other --
MR. MCCURRY: The President I think wanted to address this matter in a very direct way today, because he knows the American people will be thinking about that. Hopefully, they will have heard him say what he had to say today, and tomorrow night if they choose to check in on the State of the Union speech -- and we hope they do -- they will, we hope, be interested in what the President proposes for the future of the country.
Q Does the President think he accomplished that with that statement this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: That's up to the American people to decide, not us.
Q Mike, you said that this was an unambiguous statement, and just a minute ago said that there could not have been a sexual encounter, in answer to Sam's question, because the President denied that that was the case. Am I to take you as saying that the President denies any sexual encounter with Monica Lewinsky?
MR. MCCURRY: You can take the President for his word, David, and his word was quite clear earlier today.
Q Mike, can you tell me if the White House is going to release the assembled WAVES records on Monica Lewinsky, and when?
MR. MCCURRY: We are going to assemble those records and provide them as we have been requested to do by the Office of Independent Counsel. Whether or not we make them publicly available, I don't have an answer for that. It would be good to talk to Counsel about that.
Q -- WAVES records?
MR. MCCURRY: The WAVES records, yes.
Q What would you weigh on that as you decide whether or not --
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q What factors would go into play in your decision?
MR. MCCURRY: We would be willing to respond to news organization requests consistent with what our obligations are to cooperate with the work that the independent counsel is doing.
Q Will the State of the Union address address the Southeast Asian financial crisis, and specifically, any further steps that the President is contemplating along with the IMF and the World Bank?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President is very keen to help the American people understand why the actions we have taken and what we need to do to support the International Monetary Fund, how that is directly related to the welfare of individual American families as they think about their own circumstances and their own livelihoods. I think he wants to help people understand why these events that seem a long ways off involving foreign currencies really do have a material economic impact here in the United States. So I do expect him to address that topic.
Q Are there particular thinkers or advisors the President has been talking to over the last couple of days as he tries to focus his mind on the policies and keep them off of the other things?
MR. MCCURRY: He had not long ago a very good collection of eminent historians, writers, sociologists who were here at the White House, and they did have a very good discussion. It dealt more with this point in American history and what a unique moment it is for all Americans and why we have to seize this moment as we strengthen our country and head into the 21st century. We can tell you a little bit more about that.
Q But not since then --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's been talking to a number of people about -- he has talked to a number of people about the speech, and I know he's seen a lot of folks over the last couple of days.
Q Are there any historians or scholars in recent days that you can name for us?
MR. MCCURRY: I can check with him and see if he's had any specific --
Q Mr. McCurry, I'm not familiar with the proceedings in the White House, so forgive me, but --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's usually a little bit calmer.
Q First I want to ask you, because I'm so unfamiliar with events here, is am I right in thinking that at no other time has the American press pursued an American President quite as vigorously and as enthusiastically -- (laughter) -- as this one? And if I am right, can you explain why?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if I can comment on that, because I don't have enough experience. But I doubt that they've ever pursued the White House press secretary quite as vigorously. (Laughter.)
Q Would the President's personal problems in any way inhibit him from ordering the use of force in Iraq if that were necessary? And can you comment on the widespread speculation that there is a linkage now?
MR. MCCURRY: Not whatsoever.
Q Or compel him to use force.
MR. MCCURRY: Not whatsoever. And those of you who have been here in somewhat less tumultuous times have heard me talk in very direct ways about the patient, but not interminably patient, process we've been using to pursue our diplomatic options with respect to this problem. And I think all of you have known because I've said that here, that we were increasingly exhausting the options that diplomacy could bring to bear on this situation. That happened weeks ago and it has been a problem that we have been dealing with for weeks. We have, in one way or another, been dealing with this problem for six years, since the end of the Persian Gulf War.
Q It's been, as far as military force, it's always been one of the principles of the Clinton administration that we have domestic political support. Therefore, this is obviously a huge factor you must be taking into that element and how it affects --
MR. MCCURRY: There is very strong domestic political support for the work that our very brave young men and women are doing in the Persian Gulf right now and for the steps that the President is pursuing to assure that all options are available and none are ruled out.
Q Mike, at least one Republican senator has now expressed some doubts that he'll actually show up tomorrow night. Has the President had any concerns about the reception he's going to get on the Hill tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: A Republican senator said that he's not going to show up?
Q That he might not show up.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, okay.
Q Gramm --
MR. MCCURRY: People are free to go whether or not they want to.
Q Has the President expressed any concern about the reception he's going to get? And has he reached out to anybody in particular on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We have a Constitution that requires the President to deliver a report on the State of the Union. The President will give it.
Q Why do you think that in the face of the President's very strong denials a lot of Americans still apparently don't believe it?
MR. MCCURRY: In part, it's because many of you apparently don't.
Q Is it possible this whole scandal was generated just by one literary agent in New York? Is this whole thing possibly a fiction?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing, but that certainly seems a possibility.
Q Can you categorically deny that no incident ever took place where any staff member discovered the President in a room with Monica Lewinsky?
MR. MCCURRY: Bill, the President says that has not happened.
Q He does?
MR. MCCURRY: Everyone that we have checked with is not aware of such report or anything coming to the attention of people who would be in a position to know, that I'm aware of. I'm not aware that that's ever been reported by the Secret Service to anyone responsible here at the staff.
Q Did he tell you -- you say the President said that didn't happen. Did he tell you that he --
MR. MCCURRY: It's my understanding that the President has made it quite clear that that didn't happen.
Q But not to you, Mike?
Q Your response to Sam's question implies that you think the media is shaping public opinion with regard to this matter. What is your opinion of the media?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just think there is an awful lot of interest in this, and sometimes the temptation for the story to outpace what is factually known -- and a lot of reporting based on allegations that in other kinds of circumstances, in different kinds of environments would be put through a lot finer editorial screen before they made it on the air and in print.
Q Well, would you concede that one of the problems --
Q Mike, you know that the White House and the President have been scrupulous over the past couple of days to try to tell us that work is still going on, he's pursuing his agenda. And given that, I wonder why he chose to make the statement where and when he did. I mean, isn't he concerned that by mixing that with an event that announced an initiative that was important to him, he overshadowed it? Can you explain why he decided to do this the way he did it? I mean, why not do it separate?
MR. MCCURRY: Just about all that we have been doing, as you all know, has been in something of a shadow because of this incident. But I think the President took the opportunity that was available today that had been on the calendar here at the White House to both lend his support to the initiative the Vice President and the First Lady were talking about; second, to give you some very important information about what he's going to propose, some things that are new that you have not heard before; and then, three, to very briefly, but in a very correct manner, address this issue so that he can get on with his speech tomorrow night.
Q Would you concede that part of the problem with credibility may be that in the past the President has used words in a way that subsequently people have said, well, I thought he meant one thing, but apparently he didn't?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a judgment that those who hear the President have to make.
Q Did you specifically talk to the Secret Service about the possibility that some agent might have seen something improper at one time or another?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not been a fact-finder in this and I have not talked to the Secret Service.
Q Did the President's lawyers want him to make this statement today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if they wanted -- but I know the President wanted to and I'm not aware that the lawyers objected.
Q Let me clarify something if I can, Mike. Are you maintaining that the President told someone on the staff that this never happened, that nobody ever walked in on him?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that he's been very clear about this.
Q But to a staff person?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd be giving second, third and fourth-hand information.
Q Well, could you get some firsthand information perhaps?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I'll be real clear with you. I'm increasingly going to have this matter addressed by the President's legal team. Those are the people who are proper to address it, who have got more possession of detail.
Q Mike, there's been some reports that the President has told friends what he's told the American public, that he had no sexual relationship, but has acknowledged that he had a friendship with her that may in retrospect, have been unwise. Do you have any idea whether that is, in fact, his view?
MR. MCCURRY: The President indicates that's not false and he categorically denies your story yesterday.
Q He categorically denies that he had an emotional relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: That he had any conversations such as those that were reported in The Washington Post.
Q But does he categorically deny, Mike, that he had an emotional relationship with her?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not told that to anyone.
Q Has the President received any kind of call from any world leader in this connection?
MR. MCCURRY: He's had some discussions and we might be in a position to tell you some more about it -- that's not on this matter, but it's on the matter that's already come up in this briefing.
Q Has the President spoken to Mr. Jordan since this episode became public?
MR. MCCURRY: I would assume so.
Q Do you know whether he has?
MR. MCCURRY: I would assume so. I don't know for a fact that he has, but he talks to Vernon frequently because they're very good friends.
Q Did the President mean to take a derogatory tone when he referred to Monica Lewinsky as "that woman"?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q What did he mean using that?
Q Mike, on another development, the 15th of February will be the centennial of the sinking of the Maine in Havana -- yesterday the Pope was there and explained that the embargo is hindering the population of Cuba, mainly the women and people of African descent, who in 1779, 1,100 -- Cubans came here under the order of --
MR. MCCURRY: What's the question? That's enough. Please pose your question.
Q -- the women of Havana sold their jewelry and made a give of $1.3 million to George Washington and they make --
MR. MCCURRY: Please pose the question.
Q -- is now an opportunity to consider the right to become -- aware in 1988 and -- whether the United States --
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, I think this is yet another example of why these things should not be on live television. (Laughter.) All right, I think the question, if I attempt to understand it, was asked for our assessment of the Pope's historic visit to Cuba, which was clearly an inspiring and joyful event for the Cuban people. He spoke to and for the Catholic faithful who have suffered under a system that denied them the ability to worship freely. And what the Pope had to say about respect for human rights and the message of hope that he gave was, I think, very important.
On the embargo, we understand and respect the Pope's view opposing the use of economic sanctions in Cuba and elsewhere. However, the Cuban embargo is a matter of U.S. law and that law enjoys very strong bipartisan support in our Congress and among the American people who believe the time for peaceful change must come and must come soon to Cuba. The way to alleviate the human suffering that the Pope so clearly and emotionally addressed is for them to root out a system that has denied both political freedom and basic economic rights to the citizens of Cuba. And that is the purpose of the policy that we pursue and the reason upon which we very respectfully disagree with the Holy Father.
Q Equal time, huh?
Q -- live TV.
Q -- return to something you said earlier. Are you saying that Paula Jones' civil suit and the Starr investigation both must be concluded before the President will publicly answer questions on this subject?
MR. MCCURRY: No. What I told a number of you earlier today is that at some point in the future -- and I can anticipate when -- I imagine the President will want some opportunity to address this matter in greater detail. For practical purposes, he can't do it now because there are proceedings underway, and one of them is very clearly an adversarial proceeding.
Q Mike, we're told that if there is no agreement on immunity between Monica Lewinsky's lawyers and Kenneth Starr's lawyers, and she appears before the scheduled grand jury tomorrow morning, that she would plead the Fifth, which would obviously be different, perhaps, than her sworn denial of the sexual relationship. It would be something different than continuing to stand by her affidavit.
MR. MCCURRY: She is entitled to legal representation and entitled to have the advice and counsel of an attorney. And I don't think it would be wise for people at the White House to second-guess that.
Q Mike, can I follow up on an earlier Wolf question? If there was no emotional relationship and no sexual relationship --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, David, come on, you're beating a dead horse here.
Q Last week you said something to the extent that the administration -- well, the President's presidency was not troubled. Can you today say that there is some trouble, if you would say anything to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I don't get the question.
Q Would you say that there is some trouble today in this presidency? Last week you said there was no trouble.
MR. MCCURRY: Some trouble? (Laughter.)
Q Mike, there is a lot of concern that on Capitol Hill that on issues in which the President must invest a lot of his own personal stake, such as tobacco, fast track potentially, or IMF, that in the opinion of some people these issues are dead now for this year. How can the President possibly have the --
MR. MCCURRY: The President is going to give it his darndest, and he's going to speak to those issues tomorrow night, and he's going to work hard on behalf of the American people. And it will ultimately be up to them and their elected representatives in Congress to decide whether they will proceed on the matters that the President holds dear and wants to advance. And if the support is not there, the support is not there. But the President -- it doesn't obviate the need for the President to do his job and to get on with work.
Q Has the President spoken to any foreign leaders today on Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: If we have anything for you on that, we will get you some information.
Q Was there a national security meeting on Iraq today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Will there be one?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been ongoing discussions related to Iraq between the President and some of his advisors -- Secretary Cohen, Secretary Albright we're here earlier in the day to talk to Sandy Berger. Now, they do that on a regular basis, but Iraq is a subject very much on their minds and on the President's mind, and, obviously, the President has been doing some work on this, but we're going to more details on that if we can.
Q On Friday Texas Judge Brown upheld the jury's decision death for Mir Kansi in connection with CIA killings. Now, this was the second person who was brought in the U.S. from Pakistan, including Mr. Yusef Muhammed in connection with the World Trade Center killings. Now, is there a message the U.S. has to Pakistan that terrorism is --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q And also, when he visits Pakistan he will talk about these incidents and other terrorism --
MR. MCCURRY: No, our condemnation of terrorism is universal. Our judgment of terrorist nation by nation is one that the State Department makes annually in its report, Patterns of Global Terrorism. And so you're well aware of the thinking of our government with respect to terrorist activity in and around South Asia. I would say that the United States has enjoyed a very good working relationship with the government of Pakistan on a host of issues, including combatting terrorism, and we by no means single out any particular country, with respect to this particular incident, the CIA shooting, because we have enjoyed good cooperation in our efforts to apprehend and bring to justice those that we believe are responsible.
Q Mike, I want to be clear about what you said. Did you say that the President told you that there was no witness to an encounter between Monica Lewinsky and himself? What exactly are you saying --
MR. MCCURRY: I made it clear to people here -- and you all know this -- we're not in a position to go and get the information the President has to provide to attorneys. But that's my understanding.
Q Mike, one interesting element to this story has been the discussion of his small study off the Oval Office, which past Presidents have used to write notes and kind of take a breather. What does Clinton do in his private study?
MR. MCCURRY: He spends very little time there that I'm aware of. I've only once had a conversation with him, and that's when we were trying to get away from people who were in the Dining Room.
Q -- waive executive privilege if the special prosecutor wants to question Secret Service agents?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not a proper question for me to answer. You should ask his attorneys.
Q Mike, can you tell us who is going up to the Hill today to try and set the table for the State of the Union for the White House? And can you tell us what sort of personal guests the President might have tomorrow night?
MR. MCCURRY: On the second point, we won't do more on the box guests until tomorrow. We traditionally do that the day of the speech. We've got a lot of people going up. I think the Vice President has been going up. You were going up -- Mr. Reed, Mr. Sperling, Mr. Bowles, I think, was going to go up. Larry Stein, of course, has been up consulting. I'm going to go up and talk to some of my Hill counterparts tomorrow, as I do annually. So there will be an extensive effort on the part of the White House to consult on the Hill in advance of the speech.
Q -- question for personal attorney?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Does the White House define --
Q Isn't the Vice President going today to the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he is going today, or maybe has already gone.
Q Mike, does the White House define no sexual relationship --
MR. MCCURRY: Asked and answered --
Q -- the same as no sexual contact?
MR. MCCURRY: Asked and answered.
Q Mike, has the decision of the 8th Circuit Court, having to do with attorney-client privilege put a damper on the investigations, particularly in the White House Counsel's Office? Has it made it more complicated?
MR. MCCURRY: Not on the investigations, but it's put some damper on the ability of government attorneys to talk to non-government attorneys. That decision, in effect, jeopardized any privileged communication between government attorneys and non-government attorneys on any pending matter, if you read it in the ways that some lawyers to read it. And I think I've told you that in the past couple of days.
Q Mike, is the President talking to friends and supporters about this --
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q -- and is he doing so in any more detail than he is able to give the American public, recognizing that if you were to say that and identify the supporters they might be liable for subpoena?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt very much the President has been talking in any detail about the facts or the things that the attorneys have to assemble, that he will have to be responsive to when it comes to those who are looking into it. But has he talked to his friends and supporters and others generally about this? Of course.
Q Another brief question on Cuba. Now that the President -- the Pope is back at the Vatican, is the President thinking of talking to him, communicating with him either by telephone or writing, to get his assessment of what he saw in Cuba?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans the President has to do that. We maintain an very active diplomacy with the Holy See. I can tell you from my own personal experience that Vatican diplomats are among the most knowledgeable and well-informed of any in the world and I can easily imagine that through our Embassy at the Vatican we will have some type of exchange of views to get further insights into the Pope's trip.
Q Mike, why did he give her a dress?
MR. MCCURRY: Sarah, I'm not in a position here to deal with that question.
Q Putting aside what U.S. law says and what is required under the act, has the President had any personal change of heart or even any -- feelings as to the rightness of maintaining the embargo on the people of Cuba after the Pope's visit?
MR. MCCURRY: The President knows that that embargo reflects both a consensus that we have as a nation on how we want to address Cuba. And it's a long-standing consensus going back 40 years, through Republican and Democratic Presidents, Republican and Democratic Congresses. The President is anxious, as he has said, for the day in which there would be clear movement by the government of Fidel Castro towards the type of economic and political liberalization that has freed nations all over the world from the yolk of communism.
Should there be those kinds of gestures, as we properly can under the Cuban Democracy Act, there could be very carefully calibrated responses to that. But because we have seen very little evidence of prospects for change in Cuba, one can only hope that the desired effect of the Pope's visit there, which the people would both reaffirm both their faith and express that faith and hope through positive change, will be an attitude that Fidel Castro himself becomes imbued with.
Q He, personally, has had no second thoughts about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President very clearly would like to see peaceful change come to Cuba. I think it's true of all those who so anxiously desire that that it's frustrating there has not been that change. But we have laws on the books and those laws are the laws, and the President and the administration enforces the laws.
Q Mike, how big a portion of the State of the Union address do you expect the demographic problems in the early part of the next century to be? The President has talked about having closed the federal deficit to go on to the demographic deficit. Specifically, is he going to address --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he's going to be giving a Census Bureau report tomorrow night. He will talk -- I think he will talk about the importance of the race initiative that he has launched and the dialogue he would like to see happen. I don't know that he is going to get into a demographic analysis of the kinds of changes that will occur, but you've heard the President talk about that with respect to his race initiative in the past.
Q Specifically, is he going to address Social Security?
Q Is it still being revised?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q Is the speech -- you know, in years past the speech was written up to the last minute. What is the state of the speech right now? How long is it? And is it --
MR. MCCURRY: The state of the speech, like the state of the Union, is strong.
Q Come on, though. You know --
MR. MCCURRY: It's good. The President feels very good about where the speech is. He concluded a session on Saturday saying that it was in pretty good shape. He's doing more work on it this afternoon. They've got a draft that looks reasonably good, and barring last-minute difficulties, we're going to try to get it around to you in a timely fashion tomorrow.
Q Are you going to release a text?
MR. MCCURRY: How many years in a row have we done an advance text?
Q Well, if you consider five minutes to 9:00 p.m. an advance text -- (laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, last year -- that's not fair. Last year we did --
Q -- but we've had some hair-breadth --
MR. MCCURRY: So anyhow, we're going to do it. It's going to be like it always is, about an hour. And the President is anxious both to talk about the opportunities that this nation will enjoy in the 21st century and also how we can get there and build on the moment that we have in history. And I'll be telling you a lot more about the speech tomorrow.
Q Is he likely to address Iraq in the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Mike, on the speech, is there any possibility at all that the President might decide to submit this as a paper rather than to give a speech?
MR. MCCURRY: No, although, interestingly, that has been done in history, as you well know. But that's not the President's plan. He plans to speak in person.
Q The President is now consulting with Gulf allies and with the Western allies and so forth, and you said basically they've reached the end of the road diplomatically. So does that mean --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I was careful not to say quite that.
Q Well, exhausted the diplomacy.
MR. MCCURRY: I've said we are increasingly --
Q Are they consulting on an attack on Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: They are going to discuss where we are with diplomacy, what further diplomacy might provide prospects, and other doubt will consult on additional options that may or may not be ruled in or out, or not ruled in or out.
Q Has the President ever addressed these charges about a relationship with Larry Lawrence's wife, widow?
MR. MCCURRY: No, and I'm not going to get into that here.
Q Mike, is the President tomorrow going to be -- how much would you say is riding on the President's State of the Union speech? And is there any plan to send out Cabinet members or anybody afterwards to back it up? And also, is Chelsea going to be there?
MR. MCCURRY: Last point, no. She's in classes at Stanford so she can't be there, obviously. Second point, yes, of course, the Cabinet will fan out across the country. We can give you a list. They're all going to go in the days after the speech around the country, as is the President, to talk further about some of the initiatives the President posits.
And your first question, how important a speech is it -- look, the State of the Union speech annually is one of the most important, if not the most important speech that the President gives because it sets out our goals and objectives for the year. Is the speech being given in stranger circumstances? Of course, it is. But how many times have you all reported in the last six years that such and such a speech was a make-or-break speech for President Clinton? I mean, speeches are important speeches. This one is, by definition, an important speech because of the nature of the moment. And we hope it will be well received and we hope the American people will appreciate and become interested in the program that the President outlines.
Q Mike, some people laugh, but Sarah asked a very simple question -- has the --
MR. MCCURRY: And I said I'm not going to deal with it here.
Q -- President given Monica Lewinsky any personal gifts?
Q The State Department's words on Iraq were even stronger today. Do you think that there is any danger -- does anybody in the White House think there's any danger that the American public might confuse the kind of Wag The Dog movie scenario in trying to come up with some distraction?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because we have very carefully and patiently, for weeks now, talked about the danger that Saddam Hussein's programs and chemical and biological weapons might pose to the world. I think most Americans will remember Secretary Cohen and the five-pound bag of sugar. For quite some time now we have tried to remind the American people the importance of fulfilling the U.N. mandates and continuing that program of inspection. The American people need to know that on Friday, the person in charge of those inspections came back to the U.N. Security Council and said, essentially, their work cannot continue under the circumstances they find themselves in now. And that is very troubling and that requires the United States working with allies and other members of the United Nations to pursue a very determined course now.
The circumstances of a piece of fiction showing up when we're dealing with deadly reality may be less than fortunate, but that doesn't change what the President as Commander-in-Chief and our nation's chief diplomat must do.
Q Can I ask a question? The President's attorney, Robert Bennett --
Q Can I follow up?
Q The President's attorney, Robert Bennett, has just asked the trial date for the Paula Jones' trial be moved up earlier from the May that's been scheduled, citing the uproar that has now developed around the President.
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, you're catching me short. Has he, in fact, done that?
Q This according to CNN's Bob Franken who just reported --
MR. MCCURRY: I had heard that such --
Q A statement from Bennett has just been released.
MR. MCCURRY: I heard that such an idea was under consideration, but I had not before the briefing began quite sometime ago, I had not confirmed that.
Q The purpose of asking that the trial be moved up would be --
MR. MCCURRY: As Mr. Bennett indicated, so that these matters can be addressed sooner rather than later.
Q Will the President use the speech to try to revive fast track? And, secondly, what's your briefing plans for tomorrow on this?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect the President will talk about the importance of negotiating authority that will allow him to continue to open up markets to U.S. goods and services. He may have some more to say on that. And tomorrow we have our customary round of briefings involving various luminaries, and I'll probably do an outline of the speech for you at some proper point, maybe around this time tomorrow.
Q Will Erskine Bowles be doing what he normally does, the Chief of Staff normally does?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so. I think Amy Tobe can tell you more about what our schedule is for briefings, but we've got a lot of people doing different things. And can I just say, if you have not plugged into one of these or feel you have not been plugged into one of the State of the Union briefings, let us know and we'll try to help.
Q To follow on Iraq -- in order for the British and the U.S. to take action, does the U.N. Security Council have to give approval, or can the two countries do it on their own?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that at this point. I think there are authorities in existing resolutions, but I don't think it would be wise for me to speculate.
Q A related question, Mike. Does the administration have new information about perpetrators of the Khobar Towers bombing?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question you really need to pose to the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Q -- did you find out who the President may have spoken to?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll do a written readout.
Q Will the President tomorrow night propose dedicating any future --
MR. MCCURRY: Tune in tomorrow night.
Q Without talking about the context, can you tell us if the President has physically signed the official transcript of the deposition he gave in the Paula Jones case?
MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to pose that to Mr. Bennett. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Mike, how is the White House going to assess whether or not the President's statements today have stemmed this plunge in public confidence and the questions that are out there?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, you're making an assumption there has been that decline in public confidence and there is sporadic data that some of your news organizations can have, and I don't know that you can measure public opinion in a snapshot and something that is probably going to take a while for the American people to understand about --
Q Why do you take polls then in a snapshot?
MR. MCCURRY: The same reason you do, to sort of know what the American people are thinking.
Q Mike, how much of the President's personal time, not just with lawyers but with advisors and everybody else, is being devoted on a daily basis at this point to this affair?
MR. MCCURRY: Not a considerable amount of time compared to the other issues that we're dealing with -- the speech that he's going to give tomorrow night, the issues we've been discussing with respect to Iraq, other foreign policy matters that he has been attending to. He has to --
Q What do you mean, not a considerable amount of time? About how much?
MR. MCCURRY: A fraction of his daily schedule.
Q Is most of his time on this matter spent with private lawyers, Kendall and now Kantor? Or is it spent more with his White House attorneys --
MR. MCCURRY: Presumably, with his two lead counsels, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Kendall. Mr. Kantor has joined the legal team to assist those two, so he'll spend some time presumably with the President from time to time. But the White House Legal Counsel related to issues that affect the presidency as an institution has to spend some time with the President as well.
Q Mike, you said earlier you're going to increasingly let the legal team answer these questions. Is that going to be -- are we coming to a point where you're not going to entertain even the most innocuous question about this in the briefing room?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, look, I always do that, but we're already into an area where you can all tell that I'm not going to be able to help you very much, and we've successfully -- in fact, just like all your news organizations have got multiple people working on this particular story, we're probably going to direct you to people who are working with the legal team who could be more helpful to you than I can.
Q It may be part of the legal strategy to move it from the briefing room to the court room by having the trial be moved up and by having only the lawyers --
MR. MCCURRY: It's not part of the legal strategy because I don't say anything interesting anyhow. But it would be -- I think it would be part of our effort to kind of stay focused on some of the things that people do legitimately have to cover.
Q You mean you're going to do what Lanny does handling this, the way Lanny handled Whitewater?
MR. MCCURRY: We will let you know. Lanny has done a superhuman effort, but we can't -- we have to let him to go off to his family needs, as you know.
Q Kennedy, right? He's replacing him.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to sick you on this poor Mr. Jim Kennedy before he even arrives here.
Q Mike, can you tell us without regard to whether you plan to assert it, or whether it is the belief of White House Counsel that the President has the legal authority to say that he can assert executive privilege to block Secret Service agents from testifying --
MR. MCCURRY: I have told you that I haven't heard any speculation to that effect. That's a legal question you should pose to the legal counsel.
Q Well, no, Mike, it's a question that arises --
MR. MCCURRY: It's a legal question, you should --
Q It's a legal question, but it arises to White House counsel, not outside counsel.
MR. MCCURRY: Pose it to White House legal counsel.
Q Well, would you do that for us?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll think about doing that.
Q Given the erosion in public confidence that the polls are starting to reflect, is the President at all weighing the possibility of resignation?
MR. MCCURRY: We heard people all weekend long have made it clear that that's not the case.
Come on. Let's go, we're getting on, we need serious questions and wrap this up. Anyone got anything else?
Q That was a serious question.
Q That was a serious question.
MR. MCCURRY: That was a serious question? You and you and others had guests on all weekend long saying that that's absolutely not true.
Q What do your polls say now? Right now, because --
MR. MCCURRY: Probably saying -- I haven't even looked at them or heard about them, but if I were guessing, they'd say exactly the same thing you polls say.
Q Because what's the purpose of having people on the Hill?
Q Which is what?
MR. MCCURRY: Which is people are confused by this and they want to know what's going on. And the President has addressed it today and we'll see what public -- you know, public opinion is not something that you take one snapshot of. It's something that evolves over time.
Q But Mike, you said people are confused. And there are questions here today that you said you were not in a position to answer.
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- that's why the President has addressed these issues today.
Q There are questions that are hanging out there that neither he has answered, nor have -- you say you're not in a position to answer. How long do you think these questions are going to be hanging out there? Are we talking days, weeks?
MR. MCCURRY: You tell me how long you are going to come and bust the pinata here every day.
Q Until you start answering questions.
Q Do you think the President's said anything different today than he's said in the past?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I personally don't. I think he tried to make it a little clearer to you because you persist in thinking that things are ambiguous.
Q Wait, hold on for a second. I am not asking that -- you're saying people are confused by this; that's why he came out today. But --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm making a different point. They are confused because they keep hearing -- it's not just "it", it is like an ongoing series of allegations that change. And we've had even questions posed in here to me right now, that do not reflect as far as I know on specific factual information, they are sometimes based on rumor, innuendo, or someone alleging that they are investigating something. And I think that becomes confusing when people hear a story tumble upon story, and they don't know how to sort out what matters, what is factual, what is real versus what is figmentary, what is allegation, what is rank rumor, what is just, frankly, sometimes salacious. So they have to kind of figure out and sort out all this information you guys are pumping out in your over-adrenalin state, and they have to sort it out.
Q Mike, the question is what was or is the President's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. It's fairly straightforward.
MR. MCCURRY: It's been answered in a very straightforward fashion today.
Q What does this furor say about the wisdom of the Supreme Court's original decision if this case could go forward?
MR. MCCURRY: That would be an interesting question to pose to the justices at this moment.
Q Thank you.
END 2:06 P.M. EST