THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:00 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: We're just stalling here to make sure we're joined by our viewers on MSNBC, because this is a very important announcement going out to MSNBC and the whole world. Jeremy Gaines, over here -- Jeremy, come stand front and center -- Jeremy Gaines, who you all know and love as our Deputy Director of Press Advance, has been since January 1996, was a press assistant in the Press Office prior to that and goes all the way back to the Clinton-Gore Campaign in 1992, when he started over the summer as a volunteer in the press operation for the campaign, is departing the White House.
He is to become the new associate producer for the news with Brian Williams at MSNBC. (Applause.) Jeremy has, over the years on your behalf, taken care of so many situations that arise and smoothed so many difficult paths that you have to tread in covering the news. He has many moments of glory, but surely the best came in the Kremlin -- (laughter) -- in that famous trip to Russia when he gained his 15 milliseconds of fame when accosted by a Russian security guard who, shall we say, accosted him in a certain private place. Jeremy's immortal words were, "Well, that got my attention." (Laughter.)
But so many times, so many places, he has run interference for you. He will be very greatly missed here. And he is going off to a bigger and better career on your side of the fence.
So congratulations, Jeremy. He's actually going to be leaving while we're gone to Africa, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to tweak him today. Jeremy, congratulations. (Applause.)
And now on to the news. Today's headlines.
Q Would you like to sit here?
MR. MCCURRY: John Palmer willing to yield his seat. (Laughter.)
As I mentioned to some of you earlier, the President had a 10-minute phone call earlier today with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The President followed up on a written message of congratulations he sent to the new Prime Minister of India. The President indicated to the new Prime Minister that he very much looks forward to working with the new government coming in formation in India. The President noted that the United States and India share many values and goals, and he said that he thinks there are many areas ahead for a future cooperative relationship between the United States and India.
The President and the Prime Minister noted the importance of their two countries working together as we think ahead to the realities of relations in that region in the 21st century and indeed relations the United States enjoys throughout the Pacific region. The President and the Prime Minister indicated that they look forward to a resumption of a strategic dialogue between their two countries to include many of the areas that we have pursued through high-level contacts in the past. And the President told the Prime Minister he does look forward to visiting India later this year, something that the Prime Minister welcomed.
Q All that in 10 minutes?
MR. MCCURRY: All that in 10 minutes.
As we had indicated previously, the President is announcing today that we are taking certain steps with respect to Cuba. These will underscore a longstanding policy of the United States government which is built on four main components: pressure on the regime for democratic change; support for the Cuban people through humanitarian assistance and helping develop civil society; promotion of more concerted multilateral efforts to promote democracy and human rights; and cooperative arrangements to move migration into safe, legal and orderly channels.
To build on the impact of His Holiness, the Pope's recent visit to Cuba to support the role of the church and other elements of civil society in Cuba and to help prepare the Cuban people for transition to democracy, the President today has decided to take the following steps: First, to resume licensing direct humanitarian charter flights to Cuba. Second, to establish new licensing arrangements to permit Cuban-Americans and Cuban families living here in the United States to send humanitarian remittances to their relatives in Cuba. Third, to streamline and expedite the issuance of licenses for the sale of medicines and medical supplies and equipment to Cuba.
The President also has instructed Secretary Albright today to work with members of Congress and the public on a bipartisan basis to develop approaches for the transfer of food and foodstuffs to the Cuban people who have long suffered under the totalitarian regime of Fidel Castro.
In a very short while, Secretary Albright, who has really done so much both in her meetings with the Cuban-American community in Miami and also in her recent meeting with the Pope -- done so much to address our humanitarian concerns about the situation in Cuba -- she will brief at the State Department with other State Department officials and deal with this announcement by the President in greater detail.
Q But, Mark, what should -- I'm Mark, you're Mike. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: We can trade places, though.
Q Fine. We'll have to do that some day. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Hey, I like that. (Laughter.) Starting at the top of the hour -- Mark Knoller, CBS News, the White House. (Laughter.)
Q What message should Fidel Castro take from this announcement today, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: That the United States remains resolute and firm in desiring the kind of change that Democratic and Republican Presidents, Democratic and Republican Congresses have long advocated, that there needs to be a transition to democracy, to market economics, to freedom and to liberty for the people of Cuba. And the yoke of communism, the desperate conditions that arise from the economic policies and political policies pursued by the Castro regime need to change.
In bringing about that change, while simultaneously dealing with the severe humanitarian situation the people of Cuba face will remain the objectives of our policy built on what we believe is a longstanding bipartisan consensus that has outlasted and will outlast Fidel Castro.
Q What discussions have you had with the Cuban American community about this?
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Albright was in South Florida recently and had extensive consultations. We've also consulted extensively with members of Congress. We believe there will be support for the decision of the President today. I think the Secretary will go at greater length into some of the conversations she's had.
Moving on. The President of the United States will attend the Birmingham Summit May 15-17, the 23rd annual meeting of the heads of state of the world's leading industrialized democracies. The eight leaders will be dealing with a number of issues that had been identified in some part by Prime Minister Blair, who is the host for this year's G-7/G-8 Summit. The President also looks forward to participating in the semi-annual U.S.-E.U. Summit with the United Kingdom and the European Commission while he is in the United Kingdom.
Q What day is the U.S.-E.U. Summit?
MR. MCCURRY: The U.S.-E.U. Summit would be May 18.
Q Then what? Where is he going from there, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: There are no other stops at this point indicated. Do you have someplace in mind?
Q Well, yes.
MR. MCCURRY: Filled with the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, no doubt.
Q He will be going to Germany before he goes to --
Q Where in Germany?
MR. MCCURRY: It doesn't say.
Q What about the Berlin airlift anniversary?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, wait, that's it. The President is --I didn't read the pocket part here. President Clinton is pleased to accept an invitation by Chancellor Kohl to visit Germany prior to his visit to the United Kingdom. This visit will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to advance their common agenda for a strengthened transatlantic partnership and closer bilateral ties. We're going to get more details on that itinerary as it becomes available. That presumably is the 14th.
Q What was that?
MR. MCCURRY: The 13th and 14th.
Q What about Moscow? Is that still a possibility in May?
MR. MCCURRY: No change in what the President told you when he was meeting with Secretary General Kofi Annan on that subject.
Q Ireland is the only other possibility that we're looking at?
MR. MCCURRY: That's subject to the parameters the President also addressed on that occasion.
Q Mike, do you have any idea when the President is going to visit India? Later this year means around when? And also, three top U.S. officials are going next month to India. I am told a U.N. Ambassador, an NSC Director and also Mr. Inderfurth.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. We have announced that -- we haven't officially announced yet that Inderfurth, Riedel, and Ambassador Richardson are going, but that is widely rumored at this point. It will certainly be an opportunity to begin an exchange with governments in the region on subject that the President might want to address when he makes his visit there later in the year. No discussion yet of the date that the President might make that trip.
Q Now, as far as phone call is concerned to the Prime Minister of India, does the President feel comfortable with this new government in meeting with him?
MR. MCCURRY: The President had a very warm exchange with the new Prime Minister, indicated that it was very important to both the people of the United States and to India to remain very closely connected in dialogue. The President indicated that he hoped there would be a very open and mutual exchange of views between our two governments and that the importance of the strategic dialogue that we wish to pursue cannot be underestimated.
Q Mike, on the subject of trips, do you have anything on China yet?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything yet. I understand that through some diplomatic work we're doing, we're in the home stretch on that announcement.
The President this morning also spoke to Governor Zell Miller of Georgia concerning the tornado that impacted his state earlier this morning. The President obviously expressed his concern to the Governor about all of those who have been affected by the tornado damage. And the President today is declaring a disaster in Hall, White, Habersham, Raben and Dawson Counties, making federal funds available to victims of the tragedy.
The U.S. Labor Department has approved a grant of up to $3 million to assist workers who lost jobs, and that money will help create temporary jobs to assist in clean-up, repair and restoration efforts that will be undertaken to deal with the tornado damage. The Labor Department has got a release on that if you'd like more information.
The President also asked FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, to accompany a federal team to Georgia to inspect the damage and report back to him. It is likely that FEMA Director Witt will probably head to Georgia sometime over the weekend. And FEMA is also working both with the state of Georgia and the state of Alabama on sort of a long-term recovery plan to deal with all the consequences of the bad weather and flooding and tornado damage now that they've had in recent weeks.
I'm just full of news today.
I will confirm that the President plans to have a town hall meeting in connection with his race dialogue that will be -- well, two, actually -- one that will be aired on ESPN April 14th and originate from Houston, Texas. The second will be one sponsored and directed by PBS that will consist of a conversation organized and moderated by Jim Lehrer, host of the News Hour with Jim Leherer.
Q What was the date?
MR. MCCURRY: That will July 8th, location to be determined.
Q Why ESPN?
MR. MCCURRY: ESPN --
Q Is it about sports?
MR. MCCURRY: It will deal with a lot of subjects. This is an effort on the part of those involved in the race initiative to find ways of taking the President's conversation and dialogue about race and getting it proactively into audiences that sometimes might not take the time to think about those kinds of issues. We think that that's an audience -- the profile and demographics of the ESPM audience is very conducive to furthering the kind of dialogue the President would like to see as part of this initiative.
Q Will athletes take part?
MR. MCCURRY: There could very well be discussion about sports, the role sports plays as a great equalizer in America, and why that is a place where fair and balanced competition can succeed. That will be one element of the discussion, among many.
Q Will the President take part in both of these?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the President will take part in both of those conversations. The first would be more of a town hall format; the second will be more of a small-group discussion format. We're leaving it to PBS, which has editorial control over the discussion with Jim Lehrer, to make decisions about participants and format.
Q Yesterday Carol Elder Bruce was appointed as independence counsel in the Babbitt matter. She has ties to the Democratic Party. She worked for Robb. She helped investigate Meese. Do you think that's appropriate in light of the criticism Starr has received and his ties?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't really -- I don't have comment on that. It really is a decision made by the three-judge panel upon application by the Attorney General, and it wouldn't be proper for the White House to comment on her appointment.
Q Mike, on the town hall meeting for April 14th, do you have any idea about the coverage for that? Will there be any restrictions on coverage? Do you know what the access will be?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know yet, and I'm aware of the problems many news organizations had when our three foreign policy officials did the town hall in Ohio. I think because of that we will be especially keen to making sure there is the kind of access that everyone has got an equal opportunity to cover the story.
Q What is your understanding of the status of the North Korean peace talks in Geneva? There is talk that it is about to fall apart. Is this a major setback?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding was that they were reaching kind of the end of this phase of the discussion. They from time to time deal with the issues that have been part of that dialogue, reach various points where they take a break, and then come back to it.
Q Are they still in session?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they are still in discussion in Geneva. They have obviously not reached any agreements. They're focused on defining topics for negotiation among the four parties. And we, as we have always, have seen the four-party format as a complement and supplement to a North-South dialogue.
Q Are you optimistic about what's happening in the talks? Have you heard --
MR. MCCURRY: We have not characterized either optimism or pessimism about the talks. They are a useful format in which we can advance the goals that both President Clinton and then President Kim put forward when they proposed the four-party dialogue format. We believe that continues to be a useful forum to address the grievances that exist on the Korean Peninsula and to bring about the best prospect of a peaceful resolution of the differences North and South have.
Q Mike, there is a report out of Brussels concerning Kosovo. There is a report out of Brussels quoting an American official as saying that the Serb forces have not backed down one inch, but that the Russians are blocking any move to impose sanctions on the Milosevic government.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Ambassador Gelbard has, in fact, been there, has given his assessment of his discussions with high ranking officials of the government of Serbia. He has made it quite clear that President Milosevic has quite a ways to go in order to meet some of the stipulations put forward by the Contact Group following their meeting recently. Secretary Albright, on March 25th, will re-convene a ministers meeting of the Contact Group, and the degree to which the world community has seen compliance or lack thereof by the statement of the Contract Group on behalf of the Milosevic regime will be assessed at that time. Ambassador Gelbard gave a fairly accurate assessment of the talks that he's been able to have.
Q The report out of Brussels suggest that the facts on the ground have not changed. Are we concerned about the Russian attitude and the fact that they seem to be blocking --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will continue to have very high-level consultation with the Russian Federation about the situation in Kosovo. They have made clear that they have a perspective of the situation that is not necessarily identical to our views, but they have worked nonetheless very closely with us as a participant in the Contact Group process to try to bring about some type of amicable resolution to the conflict between the Kosovo-Albanians and the Serbian population there. We believe that they will continue to use their influence on the government of Serbia to attempt to bring about some type of peaceful resolution and that's of course the purpose of the consultation we'll continue to have with their government.
Q Mike, did the White House have any input whatsoever into Bob Bennett's decision to, some are saying, reverse himself and decide not to put anything about Paula Jones' sexual activities in his filings today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think this is a perfect case where reporting sometimes outpaces facts. Mr. Bennett had not made any filing with the court, he had sent a confidential letter to the judge, which the Paula Jones side elected to leak to one news organization, and that news organization made some assumptions based on, no doubt, the spin it got from the Paula Jones side.
Q Mike, in that letter he said "will" --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me continue. Mr. Bennett was making judgments until very late last night about how he wanted to focus the pleadings that he will file today. I think he will, in a short while, address the reasons why they are addressing the court in the manner that they intend to address the court. But I think in fairness to Mr. Bennett, he deserved the opportunity to file those documents and talk about them publicly before they were mischaracterized by the other side in the litigation.
Q Were they mischaracterized --
MR. MCCURRY: There's a great deal of mischaracterization if what the intent of the President and the President's lawyer was in the spin that came from their side, yes.
Q Well, was it not a reversal -- did Bennett not change his mind?
MR. MCCURRY: There hasn't been any filing and nothing had been reversed.
Q Well, was his thinking then influenced by media calls late last night as they were putting together what they would file today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. I think he was making judgments as a lawyer on how best to focus the argument that he wanted to make legally in front of the court -- a matter that he's going to speak to very clearly in a very short while.
Q Mike, you were quoted earlier today saying the President does not approve of using Paula Jones' sexual past in the course of legal --
MR. MCCURRY: I was asked whether there was any change in the President's prior statements on that, and I'm not aware of any.
Q Do you know if he had made that intent clear to Mr. Bennett before he sent that letter?
MR. MCCURRY: I am sure the President is well satisfied with the pleading that Mr. Bennett is going to file. I'm sure they discussed it.
Q Did the President instruct Bennett last night what to do?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't instruct Mr. Bennett on tactical matters related to the litigation. The President has enormous confidence in Mr. Bennett's ability, and the President I think probably accepted the recommendations and judgments made by Mr. Bennett about how to pursue this phase of the litigation.
Q Last night did they consult together -- if he didn't instruct him, did they consult together last night?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure they talked at some point. I mean, Mr. Bennett can tell you exactly when. I don't know that he wants to get into the content of that because it's obviously privileged, but I'm sure they talked.
Q Do you know, Mike, yourself?
MR. MCCURRY: If they talked? I'm sure that they talked at some point as Mr. Bennett was finalizing the pleading that he filed today.
Q What is the President's position on this, on using that information?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will be very supportive of whatever filing Mr. Bennett makes.
Q But if the President's position hasn't changed vis a vis referring to her sexual past in any way, why would his attorney put in writing that he planned to?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're characterizing a letter -- you have to recall a week ago the Jones attorneys filed new material and made new assertions -- it has nothing to do with the past, it's new, relevant, current assertion that they're making that is contemporary, not dealing with the past.
Q But you're saying since then the President's thinking hasn't changed, yet his attorney indicated in a letter filed yesterday that he might --
MR. MCCURRY: On the question that was raised a long time ago about past. And there is a difference that I think Mr. Bennett will be able to make clear.
Q When you started this you said that Paula Jones' lawyers leaked this letter. How do you know who leaked the letter?
MR. MCCURRY: The Washington Post reported that they leaked the letter.
Q How does the President and you evaluate this work about spin cycle --
MR. MCCURRY: I've spoken to that in the past.
Q Mike, Senator Lott is calling for the removal of --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware --
Q -- according to The Washington Times --
MR. MCCURRY: I was not aware of that. I think we have worked very closely with Mr. Comdessus and enjoy a good working relationship with him. We think he's been effective in dealing with the recent round of economic difficulties in Asia, and I'm not aware of any problem we have in our working relationship with him. You may want to consult further at Treasury on that point.
Q Why did the President feel it was necessary to address NATO expansion again? You said yesterday it's a done deal --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I didn't want to say anything so presumptuous as to say it's a done deal. The Senate of the United States of America is conducting a historic debate on the expansion of NATO. This has been one of the President's principal foreign policy objectives, one that he has very carefully and persistently pursued over the last four years. And the President, because the Senate is debating this and expects action next week while he's gone, wanted to again state the strong rationale why it is in the interests of the United States of America to see this very important expansion of our treaty alliance with the European Community; and second, why it will be in the interests of Europe and contribute to the prospects for peace and security on the European continent to see this evolution of NATO as we think ahead to the 21st century. It was of such historic consequence that the President did not want to miss an opportunity to address the matter.
Q The debate is getting more angry.
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q The debate is getting more tense in the Senate. That was the indication?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it was not -- it was more driven by a desire by the President to speak once again on an issue that is so fundamentally important our foreign policy and so fundamentally important to our relationship with our European allies.
Q Mike, why are Lindsey, Ruff, and Eggleston at District Court now?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.
Q Are you no-commenting still questions on whether the President has invoked executive privilege?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any new information available to me on that.
Q Mike, I think -- I'm still puzzled by your answer to John. If the President believes that sexual history shouldn't be an issue, why would his lawyer say in a letter that he did file with the court, say that he intended to raise it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's lawyer may well have been addressing new assertions made by Ms. Jones' attorneys in the filings they made last week. They have nothing to do with history. They have to do with a contemporary claim made in the filings that she made before the court.
Q But is it not fair to assume that if he were to deal with that new claim he would consult his client and say, we might have to change your position to deal with this new claim? And wouldn't he get approval before he would file something --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that anything contemplated would have changed the President's position as he articulated it before.
Q In other words, it wouldn't be necessary to use her past to rebut this new claim?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that. I'm just telling you what I know.
Q I'm not asking for speculation. You seem to be saying -- it sounded like you were speculating a moment ago. You said you didn't think that would be necessary.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think it would be necessary to revisit the question that the President and Mr. Bennett settled a long time ago on history.
Q Mike, do you have any -- pertaining to the Second Summit of the Americas that is going to be held next month in Chile, the fact that it is not in the United States -- information. What is going on?
MR. MCCURRY: I know a great deal of work is being done to prepare for the Second Summit of the Americas. There is a considerable amount of work that has been done by diplomats who have traveled in the region. Ambassador McLarty has been heavily engaged with other nations at a high level to preset some of the agenda items that will be addressed. The President very much looks forward to the opportunity to engage with the other leaders of the hemisphere in Santiago.
There is a very ambitious agenda that is under development that includes economic issues, issues related to our cooperation to counter drug trafficking, things that grow out of some of the dialogue that began usefully at the Summit of the Americas in Miami, and then things that have become since new points of agreement and cooperation, most importantly the role that education plays in promoting democratic values in the hemisphere and in creating and fostering economic progress for all the countries of the region.
So I know you'll be hearing a lot more about it. We're on the eve of a trip to Africa, so quite naturally there has been much more attention and focus here on the trip that begins Sunday, but you'll be hearing a lot more about the President's trip to Chile in April.
Q You said by the third Summit of the Americas, my country will be participating?
MR. MCCURRY: Do I anticipate there may be a third summit?
Q Yes, and Cuba would be participating. Do you expect that, because --
MR. MCCURRY: I think one would fervently desire that a democratic Cuba would be in a position to participate in a future Summit of the Americas, yes.
Q Mike, I'm still unclear. Are you saying Bennett did not reverse his position within 24 hours?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett took no position before the court until the documents were filed today.
Q Maybe I'm missing something. He said he might. Is that not inconsistent?
MR. MCCURRY: He had an obligation -- the judge had asked the participants in this case, as a courtesy, to alert her to anything that they intended to file. Mr. Bennett did that yesterday, but he had made no such filing.
Q But if he -- let's just say that he said that he might. That letter signaled that he might make such a filing. Is that not inconsistent with the President's prior statement that that was out of bounds?
MR. MCCURRY: I've talked to Mr. Bennett about that. I think he will address this more. But for reasons -- for good reasons that he had legally, he had been contemplating one course of action that did not of necessity require the kind of exploration of past issues that you're thinking of.
Q He had been contemplating but no longer is contemplating?
MR. MCCURRY: I think as they've thought about the case, thought about the pleading they're going to make, the recommendation that Mr. Bennett made to his client is that they focus much more directly on the paucity of the claim that the plaintiff has made in the case. And that's how they're focusing the brief, if I understand correctly.
Q The decision was made without any input from his client?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't think that's fair to say. I'm sure that -- I can't imagine that Mr. Bennett did not at some point consult with his client on that, but that would be a privileged communication that I couldn't tell you about in any event.
Q -- like a spinning or the active interpretation of the fact -- should it be considered an important factor in American politics that other foreign countries should consider?
MR. MCCURRY: That what?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the concept of spinning is much overblown and its utility is, in my mind -- (laughter) -- its utility in my mind is, as demonstrated by this briefing, highly over-estimated.
Q Going back to India for a second -- I think the new government of India has indicated that they may publicly declare they have nuclear weapons, which would mean they joined the nuclear club. What are your feelings on that? Also, they have also said on their economic policy they go back to the policy of self-development, which was kind of a failed policy of India for a long time.
MR. MCCURRY: The President, clearly in his conversation with the new Prime Minister today, did not have an opportunity to go into depth at any issues like that. But in stressing the utility of a strategic dialogue with India, issues of that nature are issues that would be well within the framework of the kind of dialogue we wish to have with the government of India. We have previously expressed our views on some of those questions. I know the United States would look forward to continuing fruitful exchange of views with the government of India on those subjects.
Q Can you give us any readout today on the President's conversation yesterday with the Prime Minister of Israel or explain why there's such apparent nervousness, at least on the Israeli side, about giving details of a proposal that's already been leaked?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been a characterization of a U.S. position in the Israeli press and I think everyone here who writes about the Middle East peace process is wise enough to be very cautious about those kinds of interpretations. We clearly are in a position now in which we want the parties to focus hard on the ideas that we've placed before them. There are different ways of pursuing that objective. The President has maintained vigorous high-level dialogue with the parties -- the King was here yesterday, as you know -- and we're getting to the point where I think asking of the parties to think hard about how they make the difficult decisions they're going to have to make if there's going to be progress is a -- we're at that point.
Q Mike, yesterday, when we were asking if there were other memos from the President and other people at the White House about Kathleen Willey, you bounced us to Jim Kennedy, who stonewalled us, basically. Now, since Mr. Bennett -- and refuses to say whether there are any such documents, much less to release them. Mr. Bennett today is apparently going to make the argument that Ms. Willey herself says she was neither punished, nor rewarded after the incident of what she alleges was groping. Obviously, it would be relevant knowing whether that's the case to know what memos the President wrote about her. Are you not going to release them?
MR. MCCURRY: You have more information about what Mr. Bennett is going to argue. I was not aware that he plans to make that argument. As to the other question, I can only stand by whatever response you got from Mr. Kennedy.
Q Mike, yesterday, three senior administration officials -- Secretary Daly, Treasury Secretary and Deputy Treasury Secretary -- were urging Japan to adopt a significant fiscal stimulus package up to two percent of GDP. One senior Japanese official said in response that they should just shut up. Do you think it's appropriate for --(laughter)-- administration officials to tell a foreign country --
MR. MCCURRY: That must have been directed at Summers. (Laughter.)
Q -- to tell a foreign country which domestic economic policies to develop?
MR. MCCURRY: We have long taken the view that a domestic demand-led stimulus to the Japanese economy would be in the best interest of the people of Japan, as well as the people of the United States. And we've argued very consistently the reasons for that.
I think our rationale is good. It has never been clearly disputed by the government of Japan that there would be mutual economic benefit, and benefit to the entire world economy, if Japan could restore those kinds of rates of growth and increase domestic-led demand for goods and services from other countries. The question is, of course, how do you accomplish that, and we are well aware of the parameters in which fiscal policy is developed within the government of Japan. But at the same time, we think it's certainly worthy to advocate a point of view that we think is in the collective interest of the world economy.
I don't recall the government of Japan being shy about encouraging the United States to control budget deficits back in the 1980s and early 1990s, and, of course, we responded effectively to those admonitions not only from Japan, but from other industrialized nations, and worked effectively to balance our budget, which we are on the verge of doing. So I think the kind of advice that industrialized nations give each other is always done with an eye to doing things that will be in the mutual benefit of the entire global economy.
Q Mike, on the transportation bill, which is going to -- before the House Transportation Committee next week, it would bust the budget by $26 billion, therefore, what is the President's position on that? They're saying there will be offsets, but they don't know what the offsets will be.
MR. MCCURRY: We have very real concern about the amount of spending that is in their version of the Intermodel Surface Transportation Bill. We have proposed increases, too, and in fact, we had proposed some increases that were in excess of the balanced budget agreement, but we felt that they were necessary and we -- in the budget documents we sent to Congress indicated the reasons why. But the kinds of increases that they've been contemplating go well beyond those that would be offset in the context of the fiscal discipline to keep within the budget targets that have been established. So we've got real concerns about it. We have other concerns about the bill and we're going to continue to work hard on the Hill to kind of move the bill back in a direction that more closely resembles the President's own FY'99 budget proposal.
Q Mike, it seems the President is in a very serious legal fight in the Jones case and yet there are people here at the White House who would take certain responses that might otherwise be used in a case of this sort off the table. Isn't there a danger of the President's political advisors trying to tie Mr. Bennett's hands when he's trying to handle these legal issues?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a very good question. I think Mr. Bennett has pursued this case under very difficult circumstances since it's being done in public, contrary to the admonition and order of the judge, and trying to put together a case that best serves his client. And I think the President and the First Lady have a great deal of confidence in the way he's litigated the case. And I think that's why we'll defer to him and let him speak for himself as to some of the questions you have been asking today.
Q Does the President not have his hands tied to some degree by political constraints?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, he's a very smart lawyer and has addressed that question himself on many occasions -- he said defending the President of the United States is different from defending any typical client because there is an overlay of public interest; there's an overlay of politics; there's an overlay of incredible interest on the part of the press; and then all of the legal realities you deal with in any normal case. But he is a sophisticated, confident, very talented attorney and has got the experience and the wisdom to balance out all of those conflicting interests.
Q Do you really think this letter is going to be kept secret, though, Mike, if everything in this case is leaked out?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe he had some reasonable expectation that a confidential communication to the judge would be kept confidential. But there's been a pattern of practice from the other side in this case that those things are not kept private.
Q So, to follow up on Josh's question, Mike, was the strategy that we saw sort of publicly evolving over the past hours, was that a result of a political decision or a legal decision?
MR. MCCURRY: You didn't see any strategy evolve. You saw press reporting out-racing facts. You still, to my knowledge, have no idea what Mr. Bennett is filing in front of the court, so everything you've been doing up until this hour has been speculative.
Q Mike, why is the press reporting out-racing facts? That letter exists. It was filed. Mr. Bennett doesn't dispute it.
MR. MCCURRY: That letter was sent to the judge. It dealt with a filing that the attorney was going to make in court today that he hasn't made yet.
Q But the letter itself is a fact; it exists.
MR. MCCURRY: A letter -- actually, I can't even confirm that because to my knowledge no one at this White House has seen a copy of that letter even as of this hour, right? Our counsel has not seen that letter and did not see it prior to its being sent to the judge.
Q You made the argument that this news organization misinterpreted the letter, though, as I understand what you're saying. Can you guide us on what the correct interpretation of it is?
MR. MCCURRY: I can guide you to Mr. Bennett, who in a very short time is going to be in a position to tell you what he is filing in front of the court, which is the facts of the matter.
Q But you're making a fairly serious criticism of this newspaper for having gotten the story wrong, and you're not explaining how they could have gotten it right.
MR. MCCURRY: The newspaper took a leaked document that was supposed to be, and under order of the court supposed to be confidential, took spin from the side that leaked it and wrote a story about it, and I don't think spent any great deal of time with Mr. Bennett going through what was actually going to be filed. And I think Mr. Bennett made it clear to The Washington Post that they reserved the right to make decisions late into the evening if not early this morning about what they were actually going to file in front of the court. They wrote a story. They tried to tell the readers of The Washington Post what was going to be filed in court without having any direct knowledge of what was going to be filed in the court.
Q But is there no legal recourse to a violation of a court order involving the leaking of something like this, especially if you're saying it's --
MR. MCCURRY: That's up to the judge.
Q What's the President doing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I thought he was going out, but apparently he may not.
Q What's he doing with the newspaper folks?
MR. MCCURRY: Just it's a reception, social -- mostly social reception. He'll give them a little tour of the horizon about things that we're working on flowing out of the State of the Union.
Q I have another question. When the President goes to Chile next month, does he feel he'll be visiting a country where American trade would be greater than it is now if fast track had been passed?
MR. MCCURRY: We certainly believe and expect, given the strength of the Chilean economy, that free trade agreements in that region and breaking down barriers that exist to bilateral trade would be to the mutual benefit of both our economies. It's very clear we could have an enormously prosperous relationship with Chile given the strength of their economy, and it's clear that others in the world will take advantage of the opportunity that the Chilean market presents if we don't. So breaking down those barriers to trade makes perfect sense.
Q The White House still feels that the warnings it gave at the time of the fast track debate held up and have been proven to be true?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a good -- that's a question for USTR, what the anticipated rates of trade would have been had there been any quicker move to free and open trade agreements. I suspect that you would make a strong case that there would be more commerce between our countries inuring to the benefit of American families who produce the goods and services that Chileans would buy, and to the benefit of American consumers who would be able to buy the kinds of goods and services that would be imported from Chile. But that is a hard argument to make in the abstract.
Q Did the President give up in --
Q -- all this upcoming travel, this foreign travel?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's looking forward to the trip to Africa. He's heard a lot about the trip that Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea took and talked to them about it a lot. He's obviously been excited in the some of the briefings he's had to kind of find out exact details on some of the things that he's going to see as he's there. And he is looking forward to the trip.
Q But John's question, has the President given up his idea about trying again at fast track?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it remains a priority. We have not indicated when in the year we will pursue that. It is quite clear that, at the moment, our chief objective in international economics is to get the new arrangements for borrowing in place that the IMF needs in order to deal with the financial situation in Asia, which in order of magnitude represents the biggest challenge that we have with respect to international trade and economic policy. But it's no less important to continue to break down barriers to trade and to continue to pursue free and open trade agreements with a host of countries around the world.
Q Is there a list of the Africa delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: You got a delegation list? Ready to go. It goes on for pages and pages and pages.
Q What's the President's focus tomorrow on Social Security on radio?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll be talking a little bit about -- the Pew Charitable Trust has got a year-long project to open up a dialogue between the American people and policymakers on ways in which we can talk honestly and candidly about the kinds of solutions that we'll have to pursue if we're to create long-term stability for Social Security. The President will point to the utility of that dialogue and then participate later in the day in one of the video conferences that the Pew Trust is sponsoring by teleconference -- satellite. He'll speak to one of those occasions by satellite.
END 2:40 P.M. EST