THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Vacation. Yes, I knew I could get your attention that way. The President of the United States of America will vacation this year at Martha's Vineyard.
Q Oh, surprise.
MR. MCCURRY: The exact schedule will be firmed up at some point, but we expect the President to journey to Martha's Vineyard sometime around the weekend of August 15-16, and depart to return here to Washington sometime the weekend of August 29-30.
MR. TOIV: Around that weekend.
MR. MCCURRY: Barry is very concerned here. Barry says, now, he may go a day this way, a day that way.
Q He's not taking the first week of September. He does know the first Monday of September comes later this year.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. The first Monday is -- Labor Day is September 7th.
Q What does this have to do with Lewis and Clark?
MR. MCCURRY: It has nothing to do with -- the commemoration of Lewis and Clark and the President's good friend Dayton Duncan, our good friend Dayton Duncan, who wrote a book about the Lewis and Clark trail and has worked with Ken Burns and others, has been encouraging us to find a way to commemorate the history of that expedition. And we'd love to do that, but there is no plan to do that.
MR. LOCKHART: We're not ruling out doing something.
MR. MCCURRY: We're not ruling out doing something at some point, but I checked the idea of stopping there on the way back from China that didn't check out.
Q What's he doing the first week of September?
Q Does this rule out the Hamptons?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. He'll still be -- I mean, there will be things going on here. Remember, it being a campaign year, the President will be pretty active, in fact, will be active -- have an active political travel schedule the first two weeks of August. You'll note that he's not taking three weeks, as he did last year, but that's because he will be on travel.
Q Connected with the political year, you're saying, whipping it on Congress, the Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: More helping good Democratic candidates make their persuasive case for election.
Q And will he be staying at a private residence?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll stay at Mr. Friedman's home, as he did last year.
Q Can you pretty much rule out any other foreign trips before the election, such as India, Pakistan, Ireland, Moscow?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't completely -- I cannot completely rule out travel, but I have not heard of anything that would suggest any additional foreign travel prior to November -- early November.
Q While we're on travel, the Moscow possibility, what's the latest on that?
Q Yes, good question, Sam.
MR. MCCURRY: The latest on that is the President and President Yeltsin will certainly, at some point in the future, take the opportunity to exchange visits as they routinely do, but there's been no time set for that and no recent discussion between the presidents on that subject, and given that they both talked recently twice --
Q Is it because of the Duma --
MR. MCCURRY: There's a lot of work in progress. We have a vibrant, strong bilateral relationship. I think the next thing we're looking to is the Gore-Kiriyenko Commission.
COLONEL CROWLEY: Next month.
MR. MCCURRY: Which comes I think, as P.J. says, next month some time. We have a regular schedule of working meetings in this bilateral relationship and it does include meetings between the two presidents and includes, in fact, formal working visits to each other's country. But nothing scheduled at this point.
Q Do you hear anything about yesterday's telephone communication between President Clinton and the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Simitis?
MR. MCCURRY: I do. Prime Minister Blair, chairing the EU meeting in Cardiff, Wales, sent word to President Clinton it would be very helpful if President Clinton placed a call to Prime Minister Simitis. As you know, the United States is a staunch supporter of European Union enlargement. It has played an important role in building a future for Europe that is part of the vision the President has of a transatlantic alliance that has the United States working closely with a united European continent that stretches all the way from the U.K. to the Urals.
And in that context we have always supported Turkey's aspirations with respect to the European Union. We welcome the agreement at Cardiff announced yesterday following the President's phone call, to implement a strategy to prepare Turkey for membership. We commend the British presidency. Obviously, Prime Minister Blair's very skilled handling of this session. We commend the other European Union leaders on their decision and their commitment to strengthen European Union-Turkey ties, which will contribute to Turkey's ability to fulfill European Union membership criteria.
The President, in direct response to your question, reviewed this issue, the desirability of a positive outcome of the Cardiff meeting, when he spoke to Prime Minister Simitis Monday evening -- this being Wednesday. Today is Wednesday. Good, got that right. So this would have been Monday.
Q Did they discuss also the Greek-Turkish differences over the Aegean and Cyprus, besides the EU issues.
MR. MCCURRY: That subject specifically did not come up. The President, of course, said the United States encourages good relations between NATO allies, and obviously we consider our friendship and warm bilateral relations with both Greece and Turkey to be fundamentally important to the United States as we think of the Aegean and think of that region.
Q But according to Simitis, President Clinton tried to exert pressure to Greece for more concessions to Turkey, correct?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not correct. I think you're referring specifically to the issue of Customs Union funds. That subject came up only briefly, and the President indicated he well understood that those funds were in a status of being blocked.
Q Why did Blair ask the President to call?
Q -- last one -- communication --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q Did he have similar communication with the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Yilmaz?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not, that I'm aware of. Of course, only Prime Minister Simitis was participating in the European Union meeting at Cardiff, Wales.
Q Why did Blair ask him to call?
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously, Prime Minister Blair thought the President's exchange of views with the Greek Prime Minister would be helpful to achieve a desirable outcome of the meeting in Wales.
Q Well, were the Greeks very unhappy about the Turkish --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I should let the government of Greece speak to that point.
Q Well, was it just to soothe them, or --
MR. MCCURRY: I think people were -- think that those governments have expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting yesterday.
Q Mike, outside, Fraternal Order of Police officials and members of the Secret Service Uniformed Division are accusing the President of reneging on a promise to support collective bargaining by the Uniformed Division. Is that the case?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I talked to, you know -- after addressing this issue yesterday, talked to those who have dealt more directly with the issue here, and they're -- they said that the President extended to the Uniformed Division a commitment to look into this, and certainly, some sympathy for the argument that they made. But he promised only that he would instruct his staff to look into it. They did. The result is the one that I indicated to you yesterday.
Q Is this primarily --
Q Why is that it's not possible?
MR. MCCURRY: It's just in the review of the 1979 Executive Order signed by President Carter, that the judgment made and the recommendation made to the President by staff, obviously concurring in the recommendation of the Treasury Department, was that the right to collectively bargain should not be extended to the Uniformed Division. It would have required a modification to President Carter's Executive Order.
Q Is that because of a fear that they would strike?
MR. MCCURRY: A number of issues went into the review of the issue. I can't brief you in detail on the whole review.
Q What does "some sympathy" mean? You said the President extended "some sympathy" at the time he said he'd look into it.
MR. MCCURRY: When we heard the argument, we naturally, and given the political philosophy of the President and this administration, normally we're receptive and sympathetic to the argument that workers ought to be able to collectively bargain.
Q Well, they took that as a commitment.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was a commitment, I am told, to review the issue, expressed after receiving a briefing on the issue, and taken by the President on board with some sympathy to the general argument. He extended to them a commitment that they would certainly review the issue.
Q Mike, yesterday you went further than just that he expressed sympathy. You said he actually tried very, very hard to get it done and a lot of people pushed hard for it and you just don't win every argument, I think is exactly what you said.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. That's correct.
Q My question is that given, as I remember --
MR. MCCURRY: By the way, some people who saw me at the briefing yesterday said, look, you leaned a little too far in the direction that there was a definite commitment to do this. And people who were there said their recollection was that the President had said, look, it sounds like a good argument, it makes a lot of sense to me and I'll have my folks look at it.
Q Well, even the FOP in their statement says he just promised to try hard to do it. But the question I have is, this was during the campaign, there was a lot of work being done to get the FOP endorsement, as I remember. This was at the executive board meeting in the Roosevelt Room, which preceded the big speech in Cincinnati.
My question yesterday was, why wasn't some kind of staff work done in advance of the President making this commitment, why didn't you know what the issues were? And you said you didn't know the answer to that. Do you know it now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think, given that the commitment was to review the issue, I think that that didn't require a lot of staff work. What was required was staff work following that commitment to review the issue and that's been accomplished.
Q But he sounded pretty confident at the time that he could deliver on it. Why put yourself in a situation like that --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't verify that because there are those who were there and attended the meeting who say that that's not necessarily the case.
Q The Wall Street Journal reported today that the U.S. government pulled out the U.S. Consular from the city of Cancun last year after he received death threats by the government of Quintano Roo. Do you have any answers? Is it true, the story?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not have anything on that here. I think you'll have to check at State Department. I'm aware of the story, but I didn't have any prepared answer here. You might want to check at State.
Q What is your understanding of the status of tobacco now? Has Erskine Bowles been on the phone to Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: Our understanding has not changed much from what the President indicated earlier, that the Republican Caucus apparently is still deliberating on this issue. There's been speculation on the Hill that they would try to kill the tobacco bill by submitting it to one final cloture vote, but it would be clear that a vote for cloture would be a vote to move on and pass the bill; a vote against cloture would be a vote for the tobacco lobby and a vote to kill the bill and to deny the kind of protection and public health provisions that millions of kids need if we're going to ensure their safety against tobacco addiction.
So, one way or another, it appears that the issue is coming to a head -- the device for killing the bill may be a cloture vote, may be some other decision made by the Majority Leader. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Q The stock market is up about 200 points today. Are you pleased by this apparent endorsement of the economic cooperation between the U.S. and Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: There's always temptation to discuss market fluctuations, but markets go up, markets go down. The President today, as he has told you earlier, concurred in action that we believe will help strengthen the Japanese economy because it's fundamentally in the economic interests of the people of the United States to do so, because it's important to the regional economy of Asia and the global economy. We acted in the context of very important changes in national economic policy announced today by Prime Minister Hashimoto, and whatever the market effect is, the markets react.
Q Is this a precedent for Indonesia, South Korea, other countries, that they ask --
MR. MCCURRY: Beyond the statement by Treasury Secretary Rubin that the United States and Japanese monetary authorities would continue to coordinate their efforts, it implies no other larger paradigm.
Q Did the President talk with Larry Summers when Larry Summers was here on Monday about the Asian crisis, about the possibility of Summers' trip to Japan, or indeed about the intervention? And did he meet with his advisors before calling the Prime Minister last night?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has had a number of conversations with his economic advisors over the period of the last 48 hours, as we've closely monitored developments in Asia and as we've worked with the Treasury Department to understand better the performance of markets and the commitments of national governments to economic policies that will help lend stability to financial markets.
The President, last evening, late in the afternoon, met with Mr. Summers, Secretary Rubin, Mr. Berger, Mr. Steinberg, Erskine Bowles, Mr. Sperling, the head of the National Economic Council, and conducted a general review of Asian financial issues, the global economy, the performance of the Japanese economy specifically, and other currency market issues.
There have been additional discussions between U.S. officials and Chairman Greenspan and the Federal Reserve. Obviously, actions that are being taken today have been closely coordinated with the Federal Reserve, as the Treasury Department has now indicated.
And that was all preparatory to then another conference call between all those same officials just prior to the President's late-night phone call to Prime Minister Hashimoto last evening.
Q Mike, was the Chinese threat to devalue its currency if the yen weakened any further, did that play any role in the Fed's intervention today?
MR. MCCURRY: A number of factors go into decisions like that. I don't want to specify any one particular factor. We're cognizant of the performance of a number of the economies in the region and the impact that developments in a national economy as important as Japan's -- the impact that has throughout the region, and indeed on the economy of the United States, as well. These are connected -- this is a globalized economy and market performance, economic performance in all of these countries ultimately is part of the decisionmaking that goes into economic performance around the globe.
Q Have officials here looked at Kenneth Starr's latest explanation and elaboration of his role in the early days of this present inquiry? And, specifically, do they accept --
MR. MCCURRY: Which one? The letter that he sent to Brill yesterday?
Q Well, it was -- yes, it was 19 pages. Specifically, do officials here accept his statement that he and his people did not know that Linda Tripp was cooperating with the Jones lawyers until well after the fact?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not had any discussions with any of our legal team on this point. I know that Mr. Kendall sent a letter yesterday and I'd refer you to them.
Q Mr. Kendall's letter does not appear to have been written at the time that he could have seen Mr. Starr's letter.
MR. MCCURRY: That probably is true.
Q Would you agree with Senator Minority Leader Tom Daschle that it's time now for Ken Starr to be investigated?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I've indicated prior that there ought to independent review of some of these issues that have come up, and I think that statement stands for itself.
Q When you say an "independent review," what does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, someone needs to find out whether there were violations of Rule 6e. That's the allegation in Mr. Brill's article. And Mr. Starr strongly denies it, and Mr. Brill contends that he's correct. And presumably, someone, somewhere will want to know what the facts are.
Q Do you know if Brill either interviewed people here at the White House, or attempted to, to ascertain whether people at the White House briefed reporters on background during this period?
MR. MCCURRY: He's addressed that matter and I don't know who all he talked to. I know that he's --
Q He has, but I'm asking if you can --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know who all he's talked to. He has not talked to me about the subject.
Q Well, when you say an independent investigation, should that be a Justice Department investigation, a new independent counsel, within the Office of the Independent Counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not for us to decide, not for me to say. Go ask Justice.
Q Mike, getting back to the Secret Service, there's a protest outside right now that's bringing a lot of attention to a group that's supposed to be secret and unseen. Is the administration classifying this as dramatic?
MR. MCCURRY: Classifying what as dramatic? The fact that --
Q The protest outside.
MR. MCCURRY: No. People have a right to express themselves, and in other circumstance they normally have a right to collectively bargain. And the President has a great deal of respect for the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service, the work they do. They are an integral part of the protection of the President and his family and this complex and all of you and all of us. And we have a great deal of respect for the work that they do. And if they have a desire to express themselves on the subject, they have every right to do so, like any other American citizen has.
Q If I could follow Mara's question on that. The President's meeting with the FOP occurred in a campaign year and he then received the first ever Democratic endorsement -- first ever endorsement from that organization of a Democrat for President. Is he certain that his assurances that he believed, as they put it, he'd be a hypocrite not to support collective bargaining on their part weren't in some manner aimed at swaying them and at giving them --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's in general the same question I've already answered.
Q In the Brill article a number of reporters have now come forward to say that they were misquoted or quoted out of context. I wonder if you think that weakens the argument that he puts forth?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not commented one way or another on the argument he put forward and don't intend to. I mean, it speaks for itself, it's an article, it's about you. So you can comment on it if you want to.
Q How about the fact that he's given $10,000 over four years to the Democratic Party?
MR. MCCURRY: He's spoken to that, himself.
Q Just one detail on cooperating with Japan. Did President Clinton himself make the decision to conduct the intervention? Because that's the first time the Clinton administration has sold dollars?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President obviously was closely involved in the deliberations related to today's developments. But I would stress that he relied strongly on the recommendations of the Secretary of the Treasury and his other senior national economic advisors. Particularly on all matters related to markets and currencies, this administration, as have previous administrations, looks to the Treasury Secretary for guidance as our official spokesman on currency matters.
Q On the India-Pakistan sanctions, are you publishing a final list of the details tomorrow of the regulations that led to those sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you know anything about that?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think we'll have more to say about that.
MR. MCCURRY: You can check with the NSC on that. That would normally -- the imposition of sanctions and the administration of a sanctions regime invoked as a result of U.S. law is normally something that the Office of Foreign Assets Compliance at the Treasury Department handles. And my guess is, if you want to get an answer to that right now, today, I'd go to OFAC at Treasury. They'll probably be able to guide you one way or another.
Q What about a timetable for an Iran sanctions veto?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have a timetable. It's sometime before June 23rd.
Q You have no guidance at all on whether it's this week or Monday or Tuesday?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard one way or another.
Q Mike, what are the President's thoughts about the KKK rallying in Jasper, Texas, to show that they're not in support of what the three white men did?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether he's aware of that specific decision, but I think generally that organization, he views them as an element of the division that exists in this country on the subject of race that he is trying to overcome by promoting a dialogue and promoting the kind of effort that the majority of citizens of Jasper have demonstrated in their own personal reactions to the tragedy that occurred in their community.
And I think that he would look to their reaction, their response, and those who have come together in that community as being the correct comment on these horrible events -- not the performance of some people who are bizarre and a little bit outside the mainstream.
Q Does he feel the same way about the new Black Panther Party who's talking about blacks carrying guns?
MR. MCCURRY: I think as a general proposition he feels those who are trying to heal and bring communities together have got the right idea; those who are trying to exacerbate divisions and provoke ugly responses should be shunned and declared out of bounds.
Q If you answered this yesterday, I look at the transcript, but has the President personally asked someone to look into the story that American defectors were attacked with gas, G-gases during the Vietnam War?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. We've indicated previously -- not yesterday, I believe, but when the story first was reported by Time Magazine and CNN -- that the Pentagon was undertaking a review for the facts. And I think -- hasn't Ken briefed on this since then, too? You may want to check, Sam, the Pentagon briefings. And I think they are doing more there to look into what the historical record shows.
Q Is that story believable?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a story that has already been challenged by other news organizations. There's a lot of reporting being done on the initial report, and I think that that, plus whatever effort the U.S. government can make to produce historical records that are relevant will help the American people understand the truth.
Q Are you saying that there's an interim assessment already at the Pentagon?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. After the initial report, Secretary Cohen said that he had instructed the Pentagon to look for whatever they could find that would shed light on the report.
Q Has he found anything?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard of that, but I believe Ken Bacon at the Pentagon has addressed that question on and off for the last several days.
Q The Prime Minister of France is going to be here tomorrow, I think in his first meeting ever since he took over the job -- is that correct? What are they going to discuss?
MR. MCCURRY: You're correct, this will be Prime Minister Jospin's first visit since taking office in June of 1997.
Q What is the name?
MR. MCCURRY: Jospin. In the era of cohabitation, Sam, a name to remember. He's going to have a working lunch with the President. The two will have a chance both to get to know each other better, but also to review the full breadth of issues that are covered in the U.S.-France dialogue. As one of our closest and oldest -- if not the oldest ally on Earth, France and the United States work together on a host of issues, including many that we've discussed here and have discussed in recent days. And the opportunity to exchange views with the Prime Minister will be greatly appreciated by the President.
They're going to talk about transatlantic cooperation in political, security, trade, and economic areas. The Prime Minister also will have a separate meeting with the Vice President. That will give the Vice President and the Prime Minister an opportunity to talk about environmental issues and other bilateral topics that the Vice President wants to focus on. And they will also, while the Prime Minister is here, they will sign a bilateral agreement on civilian aviation, a major step in facilitating civilian air traffic between the United States and France, eliminating all restrictions on services over a five-year transition period.
Q What about Iraqi sanctions? I mean, that's -- is that something where he talks to Jospin about that, or Chirac?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he talks to President Chirac about it, but no doubt will also exchange views with Prime Minister Jospin on exactly that point and then other issues related to sanctions regimes that France and the European Union clearly have had some disagreement with when it comes to U.S. policy.
Q Will there be a photo opportunity?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be a photo opportunity during the course of the meeting, yes.
Q Kosovo, the Middle East?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure they will talk about the work we're doing in the Balkans, in Bosnia, and then also our recent action together, through the Contact Group, with respect to Kosovo.
Q What about civil aviation? Do you have any concerns about the New Jersey air traffic control system? Gore's plane went off the radar.
MR. MCCURRY: The FAA is apparently looking into that.
Q Just on Jospin -- is it difficult working with the French when you've got a President there from one party and the Prime Minister from the other?
MR. MCCURRY: I think other governments, contending with that working environment when it comes to the United States, would be surprised if we said yes.
Q They'd be surprised if we said yes?
MR. MCCURRY: We work very closely with the people of France. The way they structure their internal governance is a matter for the people of France, and we work closely with the government of France.
Q Did the President or Vice President talk to Jospin about the nouveau socialist party the same way that they had talked to Tony Blair about the New Labour party?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because they speak in English when they're talking to Blair. (Laughter.)
Q Seeing that the matter is back in the news again, could you remind us of the President's main objections to sunsetting the tax code?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the main objection is that we don't know what -- have any earthly idea, and apparently neither do the Republicans, of what would replace a sunsetted tax code. And the President, and I think most Americans, have this slight suspicion that in the hands of a Republican Congress that has shown some preference for tax measures that skew to the wealthy, there might be an attempt to provide us a tax code that doesn't spread the burden progressively throughout American society.
There are many things in this tax code that lend certainty over the long-term to decisions that American families make about their futures -- retirement, homeownership, college financing. All of those things depend on features of the tax code that today are certain. And introducing an element of uncertainty to the economic planning that individual Americans and American families make for the future could lend instability to the American economy. So at exactly the moment when a strong, growing American economy is the bulwark against a lot of economic instability that we're contending with around the world, Congress is dabbling with an idea that is dangerous, because it would introduce an element of instability into the kind of economic decisionmaking that individual Americans, consumers, and families make.
So this is not only an irresponsible thing to do, it is ultimately a reckless thing to do. That's not to say there shouldn't be from time to time good, legitimate debate about tax policy and that's certainly encouraged. But the idea of scrapping a tax code when you won't be precise about what you replace it with is in an inherently reckless idea.
Q Mike, in the committee discussions about the Loral satellite waiver, there has been talk of legislation that would shift the authority for granting such a waiver away from Commerce and put it on the State Department. Is this something the White House would support?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that idea really should be looked at carefully and looked to see who is advocating that, because the pressure to transfer some aspects of satellite commerce from State to Commerce arose because of very strong pressure -- some of it coming from the Republican Party in Congress -- that developed in the 1980s and '90s. The first arguments for making that transfer from State to Commerce, you'll find in the record, came most strongly from Bush administration officials, and it was strongly proposed I think by President Bush, if I'm not mistaken.
MR. LOCKHART: There was some transfer in a larger bill that was vetoed, and in the veto message he specifically said --
MR. MCCURRY: President Bush in a veto message on a separate but related bill identified that as being a very strong need and one of the things that he otherwise found acceptable in that bill. And in general, Bush -- I think even Reagan era -- officials argued that, given the development of the global markets in satellite technology, there was a real need for the United States if we were not going to be at a competitive disadvantage to rethink how we regulate export transfers into satellite area.
So I would go back and see who's braying the loudest now about the transfer that occurred under the Clinton administration for some aspects of regulatory authority with respect to these transactions, and see where they were in the 1980s and early 1990s on that same question. And I'll bet you you'll find some people who have conveniently changed their thinking.
Q You would be against switching it back?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, when we ultimately did the switch, we put in sufficient protection so that State Department, Arms Control Disarmament Agency, and the Pentagon all have a hand in reviewing these transactions, unlike some of the proposals that had been made during the previous administration. So we gave State sufficient input. If I'm not mistaken, some of the more controversial licenses extended -- or waivers extended during the Clinton administration arose from State Department-originated license applications. So there wasn't even -- the State Department still has the authority to generate, or at least put in motion, a request for a waiver. And the one that's most controversial that we've been discussing is, in fact, a State Department-originated license waiver.
Q Right, but does that mean that you would oppose legislation --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that what we want to see is a very good, clear, honest debate and not, you know, political theater. And then we'd take a look and see what they passed and see if it was really addressing the question of commerce and regulation when it comes to satellite technology, or is it just, you know, a political vehicle for Republicans in Congress to beat up the President, which is mostly what this debate has been about so far.
Q Mike -- the President's appeal to the Congress and pass a tobacco law, could you detail for us a little bit some of the back and forth between the Hill and the White House in the last few days to convince the Republicans that this is the right thing to do?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had numerous conversations with those who are managing the bill on the floor to assess the situation. Our legislative staff, Larry Stein, our Director of Congressional Relations, has been closely in contact with leadership on both sides of the aisle. But I'd say that the most important discussions have been the conversations that Mr. Bowles, the Chief of Staff, has had directly with the Majority Leader, including two telephone conversations so far today, and who knows, by the end of the day, maybe even more.
Q Your comments yesterday about his backward thinking on homosexual relations, do you think that played any part in the --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't imagine that, on an issue so fundamentally important as the public health of children in America, that the Majority Leader would take, you know, whatever anger he felt toward me and use that as something that would affect the scheduling on this.
Q Did he call you at all?
MR. MCCURRY: No, his office put out a statement in which they incorrectly said that I was trying to judge right and wrong. Judgment of right and wrong is done, you know, in my mind, by someone else. (Laughter.) And that's not what this was about.
Q But you were saying he was wrong.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I said that he was incorrect when he said that homosexuality is a disease. It is not. And that's all I said. I did not comment on theology, nor would I, because he's entitled to have whatever personal belief of conscience that he wants to have, as is any American.
Q Do you think it was wise of him to have and express that belief?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's unwise when people, in saying something that is not true, in saying something that reflects misconceptions that are now decades old, when those -- when leadership -- people in leadership positions repeat that kind of thinking, it lends support to those who are trying to be divisive and who are trying to set individual groups of Americans against each other. And I think that's unfortunate when that happens.
Q He apparently believes it. I mean, at one point Pat Buchanan believed --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure he believes it. And I'm sure, you know, many of us know exactly what Saint Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, too. And I understand that and I respect that, but that's not the issue that I addressed yesterday. I addressed a different question, which is, do you compare homosexuality to a disease, like alcoholism, or kleptomania. And I thought that was very unfortunate that the Majority Leader did that. And I still do today, regardless of what his office said.
Q So that was ignorant of him?
MR. MCCURRY: It was ignorant. And ignorance sometimes is the foundation of prejudice.
Q What did the President say about your response?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President knows exactly what I said yesterday.
Q What does he think?
MR. MCCURRY: He probably would wish that we not have this kind of back and forth on that issue, but at the same time, you know, he understands why people feel strongly about it and he -- he wanted to make sure that I did not cast any aspersions on the Majority Leader's religious thinking. And I didn't and I wouldn't.
Q Mike, what -- you connected this -- these kind of views to why the State Department authorization bill is being held up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, you asked me a question like, is this going to affect any other bills, and off the top of my head, I thought of one and there may be others. I didn't -- you asked me a question.
Q Right, and I asked you to give me an example and you gave me -- I'm just wondering what abortion has to do with this.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think there is extreme pressure on the Republican leadership in Congress to hew to a certain line. And it's being forced on them by Mr. Bauer, Mr. Dobson, and others. In fact, they're very proud of the fact that they are moving the Republican Party in that direction. Mr. Bauer raises money based on his own strong criticism of the Republican Party for not being anti-gay enough. And that's a very divisive thing. And it's some commentary on the state of affairs in that party when you see their leadership bend so directly to the admonitions of those who are making those arguments. And you see that reflected in the way they've addressed a lot of legislative issues, if I'm not mistaken.
Q Do you see any inconsistency in the position you're taking and the position of the administration on homosexuals in the military?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because that is a policy-related issue and it doesn't have anything to do with how you view homosexuality, whether or not it is a trait that defines one's sexuality. I mean, that's the question that is fundamental about what the Majority Leader had to say and it has nothing to do with policy. The Majority Leader would be perfectly within bounds if he criticized our policy on gays in the military or anything. That's a matter of substance, a matter of policy.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:05 P.M. EDT