THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
4:25 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: A couple of other things. I think as some of you know, or as we've been telling some of you, the President did call President Yeltsin this morning. They spoke for about 20 minutes, to discuss the situation in Iraq and the seriousness of Iraq's non-compliance with relevant United Nations' mandates.
President Clinton stressed the need for unity among members of the Security Council; agreed with President Yeltsin on the desirability of a diplomatic solution, but stressed his own perception that the time for diplomacy is now rapidly expiring.
He said that -- President Clinton said that Saddam's continued defiance and his refusal to allow adequate UNSCOM inspections are unacceptable. And the two leaders agreed that they would continue to remain in close contact. And of course, emissaries on behalf of both governments have been in direct contact in recent days.
The President also spent about 90 minutes today with his senior foreign policy team on the subject of Iraq, again reviewing the diplomatic discussions that Secretary Albright, Ambassador Richardson and others have had underway in the last two days. They also had a very detailed discussion of all the options that remain on the table.
Q Do you think you are any closer to a diplomatic solution? Is there optimism from Mr. Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything indicated to us that would be cause for optimism.
Q Didn't Yeltsin tell the President that he thought that Saddam was more flexible and appeared to be trying to be --
MR. MCCURRY: I will leave it to the Russian government, which has indicated President Yeltsin's views of their assessment of Saddam Hussein's willingness to comply with the mandates he faces from the United Nations Security Council. We don't believe we've seen it, but the Russian assessment was given on behalf of President Yeltsin.
Q Do we have any proof of this biological -- why are we so intent on wiping them out?
MR. MCCURRY: We are intent on thwarting any capacity he has to pursue weapons of mass destruction programs, principally in biological and chemical weapons programs. Do we have evidence? Yes. Saddam Hussein has used such weapons against his own people and against Iran. So there is both a pattern, a track history and evidence that the United Nations was pursuing that these programs might be extant, and that that is precisely the reason why the United Nations has been attempting to get more information about them.
Q Beyond the Iran-Iraqi war and anthrax, is this still --
MR. MCCURRY: And the use of those weapons against his own people in the south.
Q -- are you still relying on that as the major evidence or do you have new?
MR. MCCURRY: We're relying on the evidence that has been discovered by the United Nations Special Commission since the end of the Desert Storm war. We make the point often that in the time since Desert Storm more weapons capacity in this area has been destroyed than during the war itself -- ample evidence to believe that those programs continue to be pursued by the government of Iraq.
Q But if you do go ahead and use military force, those inspections are not going to happen any time soon.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the purpose of any option that we pursue would be to thwart Saddam Hussein's capacity for using weapons of mass destruction, and also to limit his ability to project force and threaten his neighbors.
Q The military option -- taken, would bases in other countries be needed and, if so, have you gotten permission from any of the countries in the area to use facilities there?
MR. MCCURRY: As Secretary Cohen has already indicated today, there's a high degree of confidence that if we pursue that option we will be able to get the job done.
Q Meaning that you could do it with or without those countries?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a sizeable force in the region. We have a lot of consultations underway with other governments in that region. That's the purpose of the Secretary of State's travels in the region at this moment and --
Q Won't a lot of people be killed?
MR. MCCURRY: -- the President has a high degree of confidence that he could get things done.
Q How about the casualties?
MR. MCCURRY: They will be the responsibility of Saddam Hussein, because they will be a failure on the part of his government to do what was clearly indicated to the government of Iraq was necessary if they were to avoid any measures of that sort.
Q There was a question, I think it was on Friday, about using force during the course of the Winter Olympics. Is that something you all are thinking about, that it would be inadvisable --
MR. MCCURRY: We are pursuing a time line that at the moment very carefully pursues diplomatic options. And the time for those options is running out, and not to my knowledge is any decision making or thinking that the President and his senior foreign policy leaders are undertaking affected by sporting events.
Q How happy is the White House about all these poll numbers that the President is getting?
MR. MCCURRY: I answered that question last week and don't have any new point of view on it. I think you have to be realistic and look over time. I don't think snapshots on any particular day tell you a whole lot.
Q How happy are you with the profiles on your performance?
MR. MCCURRY: I like the one that you wrote. You wrote a great one. The only problem is not enough people hear it.
Q There are 15 more now.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I wish they were being written under other circumstances.
Q Mike, why do you think the market went up today? Was it in any way related to the budget?
MR. LOCKHART: The Larry Haas budget.
MR. MCCURRY: I think it was due to Larry Haas's final, farewell performance as Director of Press for the Office of Management and Budget, before he goes off to work for the Vice President. He did a splendid job today. But we don't comment on market fluctuations. It was clearly a Haas rally on Wall Street. (Laughter.)
No, I think that there were many events around the world that we woke up with news about the performance of markets in Asia on the first day of the Chinese New Year and performance of markets in Europe. And anything predicting market movements is very hard to do. Isolating individual causes for movements up and down is very hard to do.
Q In the range of the things the President feels he's accomplished in six years, where does this turning in this balanced budget rate? I mean, does he consider it kind of one of his top 10?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think the President would surely say that restoring health to the American economy was both his principle mission and the principle achievement of the first five years and will no doubt be the principle achievement in many ways of his presidency, creating a 21st century economy for the American people that's strong and growing, providing jobs, keeping unemployment low, keeping the interest rates low so people can enjoy the benefits of this economy, and prosper and live out their lives in happiness. I mean, that's not a bad achievement.
The fiscal discipline that was imbedded in the President's economic program that he launched in 1993, which has led to this balanced budget, is a very strong, fundamental element of that winning economic strategy. So in rank order, keeping fiscal discipline; keeping us aimed toward a government that is lean, but does the work that it needs to do while continuing to invest in the American people; and our ability to grow in the future has been a central theory of the President's governing philosophy and a successful one.
Q What can we expect at the Albuquerque event in the evening? Will it be similar to the ones in Illinois and Wisconsin?
MR. MCCURRY: A little bit different. The President will address many of those same issues in almost a rally-like atmosphere, but he will put particular focus on the budget. The concept tomorrow was to take this historic moment, the presentation of the first balanced budget in 30 years, and remind the American people of the benefits they have been getting from fiscal discipline, and I just cited a few -- low interest rates, strong economy, more provision of jobs in the marketplaces, higher wage earning jobs, too.
So, clearly, how a balanced budget fits into our overall economic strategy is something the President wants to carry to the people of New Mexico tomorrow.
Q Is the President dreading the news conference on Friday? And what does he think of your performance in the bulls-eye?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what he thinks of my performance, but I can guess.
Q You haven't gotten any medal of honor yet?
MR. MCCURRY: I've had some tips, suggestions and reviews from the President.
Q From him?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. But I would say on the question of Friday and the press conference, we've got a lot of business to transact with Prime Minister Blair. Iraq is very much front and center on the minds of the President and the Prime Minister. We have got some critical decisions with respect to our troops deployed in Bosnia. The President wants to review very carefully with the Prime Minister the peace process in Northern Ireland. And the Prime Minister is keen on learning more about the President's assessment of the peace process in the Middle East.
We're on the verge of a historic debate in the United States Senate about the future of NATO, which obviously the United Kingdom play a key role in. At this very moment, Prime Minister Blair is also sitting in the presidency of the European Union. So we have a host of U.S.-EU issues that they will want to pursue. There will be a lot of work. And the President understands that they probably won't be the subject that any of you ask him anything about. And that's just life.
Q Mike, just how Albuquerque is different from Wisconsin? I mean, he began this dialogue about Social Security when he was in Illinois. Is he going to do more of that or is this more just focused on the balanced budget and how great it is?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's certainly an element -- as you heard today. A principle element of this budget that the President sent to Congress today is that we preserve the surplus we now project for fiscal year '99 for Social Security, so of course the President will want to talk about that.
Q No, I don't mean that point. I mean the fact that in Illinois he actually started talking to these young people about why it was necessary to figure out what to do?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a conversation that we will continue. And, of course, part of this balanced budget proposal is preserving Social Security and taking the first steps to devote and protect that surplus for Social Security until such time as we have the long-term solutions in place that ensure solvency of Social Security.
Q I understand how the budget briefers explained how things are offset and that when they get questions about new spending they say all of it is paid for. But don't the Republicans in Congress have a point when they look at such things as $22 billion new more in child care over the next -- that this is not a return to big spending?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not in terms of a $1.7 trillion budget. And that's just for one year -- $20 billion is over 5 years, correct? So there would be over $7 trillion, devoting $20 billion for a new initiative to child care would seem fiscally prudent to most Americans I would imagine.
But if the Republicans wish to oppose the President's efforts to preserve Social Security, to help working families with child care needs, to expand health care opportunities, to raise the minimum wage, to do some of the other things outlined in the budget today, it's obviously a fight the President will welcome, cherish, can't wait to have happen.
Q Can you confirm if Bruce Lindsey has gotten a subpoena?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- you know my posture here, I do not comment on individuals that may or may not have been subpoenaed by the Independent Council. That's up to their attorney and private counsel.
Q Can you say, Mike, if there are plans this week for lawyers to meet with the Independent Council staff to talk about subpoenas?
MR. MCCURRY: No -- there was some speculation over the weekend about a conversation -- I am not aware of any conversations. Well, between the White House and the Independent Council we have -- the White House, as an institution, I would have already confirmed was served a fairly broad based subpoena for documents and materials. The provisions of those documents and materials is going satisfactorily, so far as I know. I haven't heard of any issues that have arisen.
There has also been speculation -- there was some speculation about White House Legal Counsel having been in contact with Ms. Lewinsky's counsel. I am not aware of any such contact like that.
Q Are your objections to the subpoenas as being too broad?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know of any objections to the subpoena that has been served at the White House. I think that was yet another story that just sort of materialized out of nowhere over the weekend.
Q Did Ginsburg confer with the White House lawyers?
MR. MCCURRY: As I just said, I'm not -- I checked with Legal Counsel here, and I am not aware of any conversation between Mr. Ginsburg and White House Legal Counsel. Now, I can't speak for Mr. Bennett and Mr. Kendall, so maybe you better check with them.
Q Mike, as part of your answer a few minutes ago, were you trying to suggest that despite the fact that it was the President himself who 11 days ago said these were legitimate questions that ought to be answered sooner rather than later, that we shouldn't ask them at the press conference?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I said that even though there are a lot of subjects that will be under discussion between the Prime Minister and the President -- and I detailed and outlined a few of those -- I said the President is fully aware that it's not likely that you all will ask him any of those questions, and I said, that's life.
Q And so does he intend on Friday to answer those questions?
MR. MCCURRY: You will ask them, and he will answer them. My guess is we'll reiterate what he has already told you.
Q Given the importance of the tobacco money to the President's agenda, is he going to do anything more any time soon to sort of jump start or expedite action on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there will be a lot of serious conversations on the Hill about the importance of that public health initiative. And I'd say it's first and foremost in the President's mind a public health initiative, as against a budget policy. It is important, and the President said so in the State of the Union Address, to keep kids from starting the habit of smoking and this President wants this Congress to be a Congress that saves kids' lives.
And he will stress the importance of that to them and challenge them to take up that imperative of legislating that public health priority. That then has certain consequences for the budget in terms of a revenue stream that might likely be generated as is detailed in the budget today, but first and foremost, the President wants the public health policy articulated and legislated by the Congress.
Q Mike, Michael Moore said on Thursday that he thought the only think that could save the tobacco settlement -- which obviously he was instrumental in negotiating -- is a sit-down meeting, a summit at the White House with Congressional leaders, people from the tobacco industry, et cetera -- to have that level of personal involvement by the President. Is anything like that being contemplated or conceivable?
MR. MCCURRY: We have high regard for Attorney General Moore's views. I have not heard of any suggestion of such a summit here at the White House. But if he is suggesting that, it is no doubt an idea that will be seriously considered.
Q When did you decide to go to New Mexico? Was that last week or has this been long planned?
MR. MCCURRY: We began talking sometime about -- sometime ago about the idea of going out on the road the day after the presentation of the budget; but it wasn't only until the last several day that they agreed on New Mexico and agreed to make this trip tomorrow.
Q Why Albuquerque? Why there?
MR. MCCURRY: Partly because one of the messages the President wants to emphasize tomorrow is something that the Vice President was talking about today -- the commitment we're making to science and technology, and investment and R&D as part of our growth strategy for the future. New Mexico, the Albuquerque area presents a great opportunity to do that. And then we just also have the convenience of the tie-in on the comprehensive test ban that Bob Bell just told you about.
Q Just one other question. What members of Congress, if any, will be aboard?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check for you tomorrow -- someone on the trip can check.
Q Mike, there was another story out over the weekend about Bruce Lindsey and that there were discussions going on at the White House about whether his conversations with the President are privileged. Did that also materialize out of nothing or is there some basis to that story?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any discussion like that, but I can check with Counsel.
Q Do you know if he's been called to the grand jury this week or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I already answered that question. I mean, I already answered that question by failing to answer it, by choosing not to answer it.
Q Is there a concern at the White House that -- you know, there's a lot of studies that would be funded by a tobacco tax, but that is essentially a regressive tax that also would be paid, probably disproportionately, by a lot of lower- and lower-midddle income people. Is there any concern about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first of all, there's no suggestion in the President's budget that the revenue generated from a tobacco settlement would necessarily be a tax, so you can't measure the incidence of the tax.
Now, do lower and middle income people disproportionately take the price incident of an increase in tobacco use? Yes, they do, but that's true when the companies raise the price of the product for any reason. If you're looking for regressive tax proposals, there's sure a lot more out there then the idea of increasing the price per pack of cigarettes that would have a greater impact on working and middle income people.
Okay, see you Wednesday.
Q Thank you.
END 4:42 P.M. EST