THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:54 P.M. EST
Q What old story are we doing tomorrow? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Medicare. Actually, this worked, because I got in here yesterday and we sort of announced the news, went in, did it today.
Q Is the President going to have a role tomorrow in the announcement of this first space shuttle commander? The First Lady's office says the First Lady will make the announcement. Is the President going to have anything to do with this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President is so cheered by that news that he may wish to celebrate the First Lady's announcement.
Q Why is this being done at the White House? This traditionally is not a big -- I mean, not traditionally --
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's good news. It's good news, it's interesting. We steal from the agencies all the time when we've got something. (Laughter.)
Q The White House didn't have any hand in choosing her; is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. This is like all the decisions have been made on flight operations and personnel for our manned space missions, Mir missions, other things. This is -- we rely on the good judgment and recommendations of Administrator Goldin.
Q And the significance of Mr. Hanks being there doesn't mean that he's in line for a command position?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but he is very interested in the space program and has been partly because of the roles he's played, and very supportive and very interested in a lot of the activities we have going on this week, as we have kind of dubbed it "Science Week at the White House."
MR. TOIV: He's done that HBO series.
MR. MCCURRY: He did an HBO series, that's correct.
Q Is there a message to young women by the White House putting a spotlight on this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there will be, and there will be good news for all those who are supportive of our efforts in space who believe it should be a gender-neutral zone. Do you really want me to make this news now instead of letting the President, the Vice President, the NASA Administrator, all the people around. We're going to hold a little bit of it until tomorrow.
Q Mike, what is the President's reaction to Vernon Jordan's statement after his testimony yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: The President heard about it and wasn't particularly surprised by it.
Q Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: Because he knows Vernon well and wasn't surprised by what Vernon said.
Q According to some of his associates, Mr. Jordan came and asked the President specifically about the relationship between the two of them. Are you aware of that or when that would have happened?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on any matters that may be pending in the investigation.
Q Mike, over the weekend you told us, and I quote -- the President has not characterized the nature of the relationship with Monica Lewinsky, nor am I aware that he plans to. Has the President now decided that no further explanation is necessary?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we were just denying the report that you had on the air, which was inaccurate. (Laughter.)
Q I understand, but, Mike, the point of my question is, you said, nor am I aware that he plans to.
MR. MCCURRY: You had reported, I believe, that there was developing a new strategy for communicating something, and I indicated that that was not the case as far as we know.
Q Mike, I'm confused about "nor am I aware that he plans to." What does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't -- you know, if you want to belabor the way we denied the accuracy of your story, I'm happy to do it. But what we were trying to indicate -- you were reporting there was a new story line developing, and we were just indicating that was not the case.
Q Several organizations have appealed to the court to open up some of the arguments in front of the judge -- not the grand jury testimony itself.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, well aware of that.
Q And Kenneth Starr's office has now said it has no objection to that and they're waiting to hear from the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: Help me, have they said that in a pleading that they filed with the court? I may not --
Q I don't know whether it's -- whether they have made that argument to the court yet.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they would make that argument in a pleading before the court, and we're interested in seeing that. To our knowledge, they have not done that. Our attorneys are no doubt doing the same thing they are doing, weighing the utility of the arguments. And if we have a submission to make to the court, we will make it by sometime early next week when the deadline for briefs is. At this point, it's not -- a position has not been taken by the President's attorneys.
Q Are you saying you might not file at all?
MR. MCCURRY: It's possible. It's most likely that they will, most likely that they will file a brief, but it's conceivable they might not.
Q Just a point of information. If you don't file, that means you have no objection to the press suit to open up the proceedings, or what does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: If they elect not to file, I will have to find out from the lawyer's how one should characterize that decision.
Q Mike, today, this morning, up on the Hill Janet Yellen basically went over the administration's analysis of the Kyoto protocol, but no copy of the analysis has been put out yet, as far as I know. How can we get a copy of the analysis, or when, where?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's check with CEA. She gave pretty extensive and substantively detailed testimony. I had a chance to look at it briefly and it went through the arguments I think in some detail. That may be in effect the executive summary of the work that the Council of Economic Advisors did, but I'll find out if there's anything that underlies the testimony they're making available.
Q Because Chairman Schaefer evidently was pretty upset that a copy of the analysis was not brought to the committee.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, she presented it and, just thumbing through the testimony, it is very thorough and in some ways technical and I think a good way in which the American public, members of Congress, and others can look at the specifics of the assessments done.
Q Mike, is the United States going to back the Human Rights Commission condemning China's human rights this year when they meet in Geneva?
MR. MCCURRY: In Geneva? Every year in Geneva when they meet and they take up that issue, how we approach the issues related to country-specific declarations by the commission is a serious piece of diplomatic work. I wouldn't want to prejudge what they are going to do there. There have been discussions within our government on that, but it will probably develop up to the time that they go to Geneva and meet with other delegations.
Q Well, can you tell us which way they're leaning? Apparently, Albright backs it and Berger doesn't.
MR. MCCURRY: There are inter-agency discussions within our government on the issue and I'm not going to predict which way it will come out. Whatever way it will come out is the way in which our government collectively and in a united way will want to speak to the issue.
Q Did President Clinton send a message to the new government of Cyprus and to President Clerides after the recent election --
MR. MCCURRY: He may well have. I'll have to check on that. I have not -- I did not see one, but I don't rule out the possibility that he did. But the NSC folks might be able to help you out.
Q It was reported that the Greek Foreign Minister Theodhoros Pangalos is going to have private talks here at the White House with President's advisor Sandy Berger on the issue of Amia in a few days. Could you please confirm and comment?
MR. MCCURRY: On the subject of, I'm sorry?
MR. MCCURRY: Whether or not Amia/Kardak is raised as an issue at talks that we do anticipate with the Greek Foreign Minister remains to be seen. I think our views of disputes in the Aegean are well known to both the government of Turkey and the government of Greece. We have encouraged both of our NATO allies to amicably resolve any disputes they have as to territorial claims in the Aegean.
Q And Ambassador Gelbard to the Balkan states -- that America is planning to intervene militarily in Kosovo -- do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think Ambassador Gelbard has made more than clear now that there is no immediate discussion of any use of military force there. There are any range of options that are available for the world community and specifically for the United States to pursue with respect to the violence that has occurred in Kosovo. It has been of great concern to the United States government that we have condemned, very clearly that we have discussed in diplomatic exchanges with the government of Serbia, and we would certainly hope that a peaceful outcome to the dispute, the participation of the Kosovo Albanians, as well as the Serbian elements in Kosovo, that their discussions could lead to peaceful and amicable resolutions of the conflicts that they have. But Ambassador Gelbard has made it quite clear that any discussion of the use of military use is hypothetical.
Q What's your reaction to the investigation of Starr over the GM case, and when did you know about it? When did the White House learn --
MR. MCCURRY: I know the first discussion I heard about this was when the Washington Times reported on it yesterday. They picked up a wire service out of South Carolina, I believe. I think that it had appeared in another publication towards the end of last week, but the first discussion I heard about it was here, and it has now been reported the Justice Department is pursuing; therefore, we have no reaction.
Q Mike, is the President willing to compromise with Republicans on the Hill on how the increase in funding for the EEOC is disbursed?
MR. MCCURRY: On how -- excuse me?
Q How the increase in funding for the EEOC is disbursed.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything on that issue. How it would be disbursed, or --
Q Apparently, House Republicans are not happy with funding money for fixing new cases; they want to deal with the backlog, the 65,000 cases that are in backlog and they don't --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have identified specific needs and, because of the volume of cases that they're dealing with at the EEOC, have suggested that they are due a budget increase and we so proposed in the FY99 budget proposal. How that money is to be allocated within the agency, I don't know how detailed they've been. You may want to ask over at OMB and see if they can help you out on that.
Q Does the President believe the public still deserves an answer on the Monica Lewinsky relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: I would not be at all surprised if the President addresses that publicly. It has been widely reported that he has addressed the matter in some detail in other venues. And as we told you before, this matter has to proceed in other venues before it can proceed in a more public one.
Q Wait. In what venues has he addressed this matter?
MR. MCCURRY: I've been reporting what you have reported -- and you know what I mean.
Q No we don't. Could you tell us?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been various media reports on whether or not he has submitted -- answered some of these questions in the context of some of the litigation that's under way at this point.
Q Do you have any reaction to the trial and conviction -- Cambodia's trial and conviction of Prince Ranariddh on arms smuggling. Any suggestions to King Sihanouk, who is reviewing a possible --
MR. MCCURRY: I did not have any guidance on that here, but they did at State, and my guess is it's been asked and answered at State. If not, NSC will follow up with you.
Q Mike, I wanted to go back. Last week you said unequivocally a couple of times that people like Terry Lenzner were not in any way investigating Joe diGenova, his wife, Ken Starr, anybody else. The statement that came out from Kendall and Bennett was by no means as unequivocal. It said they were not investigating anyone's private lives. Does your answer still stand?
MR. MCCURRY: My answer still stands. Their statement still stands. No change in our views on that.
Q You don't see a contradiction?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not.
Q Were you talking about in the Paula Jones deposition?
MR. MCCURRY: You can go back and check your clips if you're not familiar with the matter.
Q What does the White House think could be gained by unsealing these conferences before the judge on executive privilege.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to preview arguments that may or may not be made by the President's attorneys.
Q When you said you wouldn't be surprised if he addresses it at some point, I mean, it's still expected, as he told the public, that he will offer an explanation.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I can't imagine that he won't.
Q In fact, he said the American people have a right to an explanation.
MR. MCCURRY: I think he still believes that.
Q And so when you said, "nor am I aware that he plans to," you are now disavowing that.
MR. MCCURRY: Scott, the horse you're beating is dead.
Q Mike, we've been using this quote. Are you telling me that that's no longer operative.
MR. MCCURRY: That quote is operative, and it was pretty -- very clear I think to everyone that I gave it to what it meant.
Q You said what Terry Lenzner was not hired to do; you haven't said what he was hired to do.
MR. MCCURRY: The statement issued by the two attorneys who hired him did say what he was doing.
Q Mike, where are you on the state of Puerto Rico?
MR. MCCURRY: We are trying to support the efforts by Congressman Miller and Congressman Burton to change significantly and improve significantly the language of the Solomon Amendment, which stands as a real subject of concern as an otherwise important piece of legislation proceeds in the House which would give the citizens of Puerto Rico a right to render judgment about their future.
Q And would you be encouraging a 51st state?
MR. MCCURRY: We take no position on any of the three options that the citizens of Puerto Rico might want to explore, a change in the status of the Commonwealth, statehood, or independence.
Q Mike, I don't think you were asked this yesterday, but if you were -- why is what Breaux said about Medicare extension helpful to you, or do you think it wasn't helpful?
MR. MCCURRY: It was neither helpful or unhelpful. It was his view that that was an issue that would certainly otherwise be within the purview of the Medicare Commission, although Senator Breaux has indicated to us that if we could build sufficient support, and it would obviously have to be bipartisan support in the Senate and in the House, to move ahead on the Medicare proposal the President has, he certainly would think that was a good thing to have happen.
Q I thought he was saying it shouldn't be taken up until after the Medicare Commission has looked at it. You're saying he's not saying that?
MR. MCCURRY: He was saying that that would be the proper venue to consider it, but he acknowledged that if we were successful in building support for the President's proposal as we believe we will be, he would not stand in the way of seeing it proceed simply because it ought to -- that there is another venue in which it might be addressed.
Q Is the President going to defer to Breaux as the Chairman of the Medicare Commission, or is he going to continue to push to get that -- this year.
MR. MCCURRY: We've already identified this as one of the President's initiatives he wants to pursue this year, and we will. And we have some degree of confidence that we will build significant bipartisan support for doing something that will expand Medicare coverage for people who need it, particularly below the current age eligibility threshold. If we can't do it, obviously the Medicare Commission is the place where larger issues like that can be considered. But we would like to see it done sooner rather than later, and done by this Congress.
Q Just one more on this. Since Breaux is so significant on this issue, I mean, he really is a leader on this issue, how important is his voice in this? I mean, isn't a deterrent effect when the Chairman of the Medicare Commission --
MR. MCCURRY: His voice on this is significant. His stature and his reputation on the issue is well known in the Congress. I think his views will have considerable import, but he has indicated to us that he certainly acknowledges that we, if we want to push for this, may well be successful in moving it forward. And I'm not aware that he has any fundamental objection to the concept. But I think, in fairness, and given his role as chair of the commission, wants to make sure that that is a venue that's available for discussion of issues like Medicare age eligibility, if that's something that the other commissioners want to take up.
Q Chairman Greenspan warned Congress there may not be any surpluses in coming years. What does he know that the economists here do not?
MR. MCCURRY: He's cautious and prudent, as are we. And our conservative budget projections do point to surpluses, but the President is the first to say we should not spend surpluses that we have interest realized -- all the more reason to just declare straightforward as policy that, should there be future surpluses, they ought to be devoted to saving Social Security first, which is what the President suggests.
We've got a lot of people on the Hill, and most of them are Republicans, who are trying to figure out ways to spend surpluses that we don't have that Chairman Greenspan suggests might never develop.
Q Do you agree with the CBO that there will actually be a deficit in the year 2000 if the President's plan is enacted?
MR. MCCURRY: We have -- no, we don't agree with that. We have our own economic forecasts and projections, and, on balance, in the last five years, I'd have to say, and I think any fair person would say, that the projections of the OMB have been more accurate than those of the CBO. But this is a fairly technical issue of budget estimation because it involves differences in how OMB and CBO calculate outlays under defense spending, and we don't see that there is any significant difference in economic judgments about the future that prevent sound budget policymaking from developing.
Q Mike, what is tomorrow's Medicare event all about?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be a lot about how we move ahead on some of the issues related to Medicare solvency coverage, some of the things the President has identified in the State of the Union.
Q Is this a social gathering? Is it a --
MR. MCCURRY: Do you know, Barry? It's the first meeting of the commission.
MR. TOIV: Well, their first official meeting is Friday. He wants to meet with them ahead of time --
MR. MCCURRY: It's an opportunity for the President to meet and exchange views with members of the commission in advance of their first official meeting on Friday.
Q Has he laid down a charge to them?
MR. MCCURRY: He makes the news tomorrow that he makes tomorrow.
Q Mike, does the White House have a position on making English the official language of the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: The discussion we had just awhile ago about the Solomon Amendment indirectly touches on that, and I can't remember how we have stated the most recent position on that, but we're working right now in that context on this amendment that Congressman Solomon has proposed. And there is language that Congressmen Miller and Burton have that certainly acknowledge that English is the language of this country. And should a decision be made -- I think the amendment says if a decision is made by the citizens of Puerto Rico to pursue statehood, then English is a common vernacular of citizens of the United States and it ought to be -- development of English instruction ought to be encouraged, or something to that effect.
Q But it doesn't make it official; it just encourages --
MR. MCCURRY: It does not declare it as the official language, which is what the Solomon amendment does, which is what the Administration opposes.
Q Why not English first, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- because there are other ways of addressing the question of how you teach a common language to people who need training because they are proficient first in a second language.
Q Mike, given what you said Senator Breaux has told the White House about the future of the President's Medicaid/Medicare proposal, is he going to use the meeting tomorrow to put this back on the table in front of the very people who are going to decide, or does he campaign for it?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to see tomorrow. I'm not -- I haven't heard a discussion of that.
Q How did Breaux's comments affect the prospects, the long-term prospects, for this proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the kind of the question that Mara answered, so I'll stick with that answer.
Q She answered it?
Q And on that, Mike, by embracing Breaux's comments about that are you signaling the Democrats that they should not use the President's proposal as a campaign tool this fall -- this push to reduce the age of eligibility?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that politics has anything to do with the discussion of Medicare eligibility that we've pursued -- (laughter) -- nor the proposal the President has made. There are a lot of Republicans who are in favor of it, so I'm not sure -- it would only be a political issue if the Republicans chose to oppose it. (Laughter.)
Q So you are not --
Q Like everything else around here.
Q What Breaux said doesn't in any way lessen your determination to get that passed this year?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it does not lessen our determination, given the President's strong commitment to it and the stress he put on it in the State of the Union. But we acknowledge that the chairman of the commission would want to preserve the ability of the commission to deal with that and other issues should they arise. And I think that was not an unanticipated statement by Senator Breaux.
Q Mike, I'm still confused. How can your statement that Lenzner and company are in no way whatsoever investigating these people square with the lawyers' statement, which says only that they're not investigating their private lives?
MR. MCCURRY: If you go back and look at the lawyers' statement, even their statement said that my statement was accurate. So they were right and I was right
Q But they don't match.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been through that earlier in the week.
Q Could you elaborate on the other ways rather than making English first? Have you thought that out?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of -- there are different ways in which -- the Education Department has talked about ways in which they develop proficiency through ESL and other programs. But off the top of my head, I can't do that. There are a lot of people who can help you out on that, though.
Q Mike, has the President met with or got a report back from Walter Mondale after his trip to Indonesia? And what does he think about the prospects of Indonesia adopting reform so that the next distribution of IMF funds can occur?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had sort of a preliminary readout of the former Vice President's meeting with President Soeharto. We are very anxious to get a fuller report when Vice President Mondale returns, and I believe he will be back --
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think he's back today.
MR. MCCURRY: He may be back either late -- back in country today, and I think we'll be in a position in a coming day or two to get a fuller understanding of his meetings. Nonetheless, we still remain very firmly of the view that President Soeharto has been given a good rationale on how economic stability in Indonesia can flow from a determined pursuit of the type of economic reforms that the government of Indonesia has agreed to in its discussions with the IMF. And there are IMF representatives who will be meeting in Jakarta, I think even today their time, and maybe tomorrow, to pursue that with Indonesian economic officials. We think those discussions are important because it's important for Indonesia to stay with the program that offers the best chance of restoring economic stability to their own currency and to their own economic situation, which ultimately has then an impact in the region.
Q Mike, yesterday you were asked whether the OIC had requested an interview with the President. You referred us to Mr. Kennedy, who referred us to Mr. Ruff, who referred us to Mr. Kendall, who hasn't returned a call in five weeks. Can you answer that question?
MR. MCCURRY: He's still not returning his calls, has he?
I can only answer on behalf of the White House. The White House is not aware of those conversations, but we direct you to the President's private attorneys for the simple reason that they may have discussions that we can't speak knowledgeably to. If they choose not speak knowledgeably about them to you, there's not much I can do about that.
Q The White House is unaware of whether the OIC has asked for an interview with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: The OIC has not had any discussions on that point with White House legal counsel. And what I want to make clear is, whether or not they've had discussions with any of the President's other representatives, it would be for his private attorneys to tell you. If they're not returning phone calls, I can certainly encourage them to do so, but there's not much beyond that I can do.
Q When are you going to announce the new South Korean president's visit to Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that's a subject of active diplomacy, and I don't think there's any announcement prepared on it.
Q Is the President pleased to hear William Ginsburg say that his client does not plan to change her affidavit?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any comment on that.
Q Has the President invoked executive privilege yet?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new on that that I am aware of.
Q Mike, just one I forgot to ask on Social Security. Kasich yesterday presented somewhat of a privatizing plan for Social Security. Are you studying that, or is it being ruled out of hand?
MR. MCCURRY: It appears at first glance to us to be another form of using the surplus for a tax cut. We have made it very clear that we think any future surpluses ought to accrue to the benefit of Social Security and the generations that are going to need Social Security before it's spent. That's our view, but we will look at it and understand it better as we go along.
Q And if the program ever becomes solvent, would you -- if it could happen while Clinton is still President, would you support any type of privatization of it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we would be interested in first things first. If we could make Social Security solvent, that would be quite an achievement for one day, and we'd talk about other things at another time.
Q Mike, when the President tentatively accepted the deal worked out between Kofi Annan and Iraq, I believe he said that the administration planned to clarify, test, and verify the agreement. Which stage are we in now and when will the testing come?
MR. MCCURRY: Chairman Butler, I think, has indicated publicly that UNSCOM is now in the preparation -- or in the stages of preparing the way in which they would administer the agreement reached between the United Nations and the government of Iraq. We think that's important, we think it should be done speedily, and we will await the results.
Q Did the President meet with his foreign policy team today?
MR. MCCURRY: He does so -- he has a session scheduled for late this afternoon and may have an opportunity to touch base on Iraq and other matters.
Q Mike, has the President had any -- been in any touch lately with Monica Lewinsky or with her lawyers, or has anyone in the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware in either case.
Q Mike, do you find it at all incongruous that the President's private lawyer, David Kendall, also represents the National Enquirer?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's been well known for some time.
Q I know, I understand that. The question is --
MR. MCCURRY: Do I find it incongruous? No.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:20 P.M. EST