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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 8, 1998
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                             MIKE MCCURRY 

The Briefing Room

1:00 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Bruce. Thank you for assembling the pool.

Q We're giving your briefers day by day a harder time.

MR. MCCURRY: They see what it's like on occasion.

Let me do two things, highlight two housekeeping measures. I just want to make sure that you saw the First Lady -- the First Lady's press office put out an interesting travel schedule on this Save America's Treasures tour that she is doing July 13th through 16th, partly under the auspices of our Millennium Council here celebrating events leading up to the millennium.

One of the ways in which we are ushering the new century and the new millennium is to preserve those treasures from our past. And the First Lady will, starting with the Star-Spangled Banner and ending with a tribute to women's rights at Seneca Falls up in New York, will be drawing attention to our nation's priceless cultural legacy. And I hope you'll have the opportunity to look at that. This is a public-private partnership that's being undertaken, along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is the nations' oldest and largest preservation organization, headed by the ever-capable good friend of ours, Mr. Dick Moe*.

Q Also under the auspices of NBC and the Today Show.

MR. MCCURRY: NBC and the Today Show -- and a number of your colleagues will be traveling by bus with the First Lady and getting ample opportunity to cover this tour.

Second, the President and the White House are delighted with the announcement today by the Vice President and the Treasury Secretary of the new inflation index savings bonds that will help Americans save for the future, protected against the effects of inflation. Those of you who used to buy series EE bonds for new nephews, and some of you for grandchildren, can now switch over to inflation-protected bonds. Some of you buy the $1,000 denomination, here in the front row, and the rest of you in the back --

Q Twenty-five dollar -- (laughter) --

MR. MCCURRY: -- $50 denomination. (Laughter.) And those if us in the $50 denomination will be delighted to know that Helen Keller will be on the face of that bond and those of you in the $1,000 denomination have Albert Einstein on your --

Q -- CBS radio guys. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the meaning of that.

Q I saw the release.

Q Would you actually support what Rubin and Gore said today?

MR. MCCURRY: What Rubin and Gore said today? I always support what the Vice President and Treasury Secretary say. No, I talked about -- I think that is of interest and I hope that you will at least flag that to the attention of your colleagues. There are a lot of people who believe in the value of U.S. savings bonds as a savings device for the future.

What news, Barry? Oh, he's just checking out his lunch appointment, don't worry.

Q Mike, since the President is going to be at 2:00 p.m. dealing with what can the President do to help race relations in America, what can he do? What will he tell Jim Lee?

MR. MCCURRY: He's going to talk about the significant role a President can play in a number of ways. Look, I don't want to take away what you will see him say at 2:00 p.m. He's going to talk about the role any President plays both as someone who shepherds public policy to the correct destination, someone who effectively uses the bully pulpit to encourage and stimulate dialogue, someone who can lead by example, someone who can bring personal experience relevant to a greater understanding of issues.

But I think the President will also talk about all the things that have gone into building an atmosphere in which we'd better consider race and diversity as an element of public policy in this country. I can take some time going through that, but you can also get, if you are interested, from the Race Initiative, a fairly lengthy summary of the ways in which this initiative has infused policymaking within this administration in areas as diverse economic empowerment, education policy, crime protection, housing policy, measures to help the young people of America. The concern that we have about diversity and about racial relations is an element that infuses policy discussions across a broad range of issues.

Q Is there more that he can do, though? Has he done it all?

MR. MCCURRY: He's done a lot, and there is more that he can do and will do.

Q Does the President support Secret Service Director Lew Merletti's appeal for a new Secret Service protective function privilege?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is not taking a position on the litigation that has just been ruled on in the Circuit Court.

Q Why is that? Why is the President not taking a position on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back.

Q Mike, what's the assessment of the White House on the situation in Nigeria?

MR. MCCURRY: Our assessment is that it remains a very fluid situation in which there is considerable concern for civil order. The untimely death of Chief Abiola has given rise to uncertainty about the conditions for the political transition back to the democracy that the United States and the world community so anxiously desires. The presence of an Under Secretary of State in consultations with both the government and with those who have been detained, and obviously with Chief Abiola until his death, was timely and useful in expressing concern by the United States for the level of transformation occurring there.

We will continue to be putting a great emphasis on the need for the current ruling leadership to continue to release those who are in prison only for reasons of belief and personal conscience, and to continue to find ways to promote dialogue with all elements of the civil political society that exists and needs to flourish in Nigeria. We are hopeful that there can be a transition back to democracy, which was stolen from the people of Nigeria in 1993, and we are hopeful that the violence that has erupted because of concerns about the untimely deaths of not only Chief Abiola, but others, can subside.

Q But the report said that military government has been dissolved. Is Under Secretary Pickering been able to confirm that?

MR. MCCURRY: We are aware of those. We believe that those reports may be referring to some resignations that have occurred within the ruling cabinet, which appear to be an effort to clear the way for the formation of a new government. It's not entirely certain what the outcome of that will be, but we all are following up on that, obviously.

Q Mike, Wolf's question had to do not with the litigation, but whether the President would support Congress passing a Secret Service --

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard the President take any position on that, and if at some point in the future he chooses to, I'll alert you.

Q Mike, if I could follow up, the Court yesterday said that the Secret Service would have been on stronger grounds in their case if the President had personally intervened and said, yes, I think since I am the beneficiary of this --

MR. MCCURRY: We were not a litigant in -- we were not participating in the litigation and, therefore, don't have a position on the position the Court has taken. And if the President has any views in the future that he wishes to share, I'll let you know. He has made one comment on this, and that's as much as he wants to say on it as far as I understand.

Q You may not have a position, but you certainly have a feeling about it, don't you?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any feelings on it myself.

Q Well, doesn't he?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to him about it, and I know that he is not intending to comment on it.

Q And that's deliberate on his part because he --

MR. MCCURRY: It's consistent with the position we've taken on this matter from the very beginning.

Q Does that stand by what he said in June when he though it might have a "chilling" -- his word, not mine -- a "chilling" effect?

MR. MCCURRY: He is aware of the arguments that have been made by those who argued the case in the Court.

Q But he said that.

Q In your response on the Nigeria question, you mentioned there's a worry about civil war and Nigeria. How serious is this war? I mean, that's a fairly strong statement.

MR. MCCURRY: I said we're worried about civil order and returning order.

Q Order.

Q Order, I'm sorry.

Q Oh. (Laughter.)

Q Never mind. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Is that it for today? (Laughter.)

Anything else?

Q Mike, it's been quite a while since the White House has put forward any new initiatives or new calls to pass tobacco legislation. The last I recall is the 22nd of June. What's the next step for the administration to get this moving on the Hill again?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President mentioned that in his event --

Q Passing reference only. Was there anything more substantive --

MR. MCCURRY: Passing reference on Monday, he made, I think, a fairly urgent call to Congress to use in a wise way the remaining time in this session to pass urgently-needed legislation of which he highlighted measures to protect the public health of kids from the effects of tobacco smoke, very high on the list. We continue to hope that Congress will find a way back to passing that legislation. There are current legislative efforts underway on the Hill to do so, and we remain available to work with those who share our objectives when it comes to the public health of America's children to try to move this needed legislation.

Q On the Race Initiative, I'm a little confused on where the President is in the process. Does he -- today's roundtable -- is he kind of coming to a close what his active participation is going to be in this?

MR. MCCURRY: No, in fact, in some ways, having -- he's been an active participant up to now; we are actually entering into what will be for him the heaviest work assignment he's had as part of this initiative. The Advisory Board has done its work commendably during the course of its year of existence, which ends in the fall -- in September. In a series of, I think, very important outreach efforts, they participated in dozens, if not even hundreds, of conversations around the country leading up to the kinds of recommendations and thoughts that they will share with the President as he then begins to sum up this effort in the report that he will issue by the end of the year.

So, between now and the end of the year, the President's focus will be on bringing some conclusions to this initiative in the form of a report that he plans to issue by the end of the year. And there will be a number of things associated with that, I suspect.

Q Mike, on the event we had here today, does the White House believe that the posting of these signs in the federally-licensed gun shops will really have an impact, a positive impact?

MR. MCCURRY: I think you asked my colleague, Mr. Reed, that question, and he had a good answer. It will have an impact. It will be of some utility and remind people of the kind of penalties that they would face. It's not always effective, but it does have some deterrent effect, to be sure, just as seeing that you're going to get fined when you speed has some effect when you're driving down the highway.

Q Probably another futile bid to stir up the markets -- would you like to comment on Japan's proposal for tax cuts and whether, in fact, they have communicated to you whether these are permanent or temporary tax cuts?

MR. MCCURRY: It's clear that Japan has a critical role to play in helping to restore financial stability in Asia by stimulating domestic growth, something that the United States has long called for. We believe it also must strengthen its financial system, deregulate, open up its markets, do those things that would lead to more coherency in macroeconomic policy.

What's critical now is that Japan take steps to ensure substantial and sustained fiscal stimulus as well as efforts to strengthen its financial sector. Only through a quick and decisive action on financial restructuring as well as sustained fiscal stimulus can Japan play its critical role in helping restore growth and stability in Asia.

Q So you have no specific position on permanent tax cuts or tax reform of any kind?

MR. MCCURRY: We have said that sustained and substantial fiscal stimulus -- which obviously in part can be achieved through a permanent tax cut, among other ways in which you would stimulate -- would be key to restoring the role that Japan needs to play in both the regional economy and the global economy.

Q Mike, some House Republicans plan to try to overturn the President's executive order banning discrimination against gays. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCURRY: The President believes he was on firm legal ground, and as a matter of principle, was on correct and right ground when he acted to simply make clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual preference is not tolerated. Those who want to take the position that discrimination is okay is not a big problem can try to make that argument. But that's a difficult argument to make. My guess is they will try to make an argument that there are special rights being conferred here and that is not true. What we're making clear is that, in discrimination and in a host of areas against people simply because they are gay or lesbian is not to be tolerated.

Q Can I follow that up?


Q Why then does the President not support gay marriages?

MR. MCCURRY: It has nothing to do with discrimination in the form that is protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Q Why doesn't he?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a matter that is separate and is unrelated to the question of discrimination, as it's defined by Title VII.

Q Mike, there's a bill pending in the Senate that would force Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey to improve his performance in terms of drug consumption here in the U.S. before continuing funding. What's the White House position on this and what kind of efforts have you made to work it out?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we believe that General McCaffrey has been performing quite well. We are on the eve of a launch of a major effort to help discourage young people from taking up drugs or using drugs, and the funding that he needs to carry out what is a very sophisticated and well-developed national antidrug strategy, is important. And Congress would do well to give General McCaffrey the tools we need to combat drug use in America, rather than quibbling over his performance.

Q On a different subject. Why doesn't the President support gay marriages?

MR. MCCURRY: That's -- look, we addressed that matter in the past. It is, first and foremost, domestic law, a matter that is regulated at the state level, and it's not really a federal issue, among other reasons. But we go back and there's a long, involved history on that subject.

Q Mike, Britain announced today that it's cutting its submarine-based nuclear warheads by half. Do you have any reaction to that? Does that fit with the climate of nonproliferation that the U.S. has been trying to engender with a view of South Asia?

MR. MCCURRY: Let me kick over to the NSC more specific response to that, but as a general matter, we are aware that nation states and other nuclear powers are adjusting their forces consistent with whether the realities of the post-Cold War era. And just as we're seeking to work to reduce our own inventory of nuclear weapons in tandem with reductions that are occurring elsewhere in the world, specifically in the Russian Federation, there are realignments occurring as people readjust their arsenals and think through the realities of this new world we live in. It's a hopeful world that we live in, and the readjustment of force posture based on the realities of this world is something that reflects the benevolent environment we find ourselves in at the end of the Cold War.

Q What's the President going to tell the firefighters and the people of Florida tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you for a job well done. He will obviously understand better some of the tragedy that individual families have faced as a result of the fires. He will review the extensive and fairly amazing federal deployment to Florida that occurred in the context of finding these fires and the number of agencies beyond just the Federal Emergency Management Agency involved in providing a crisis response. But I think he'll also pay tribute to all of those from around the country, particularly up and down the East Coast, who went to Florida to help the people of Florida combat the fires.

Q Is it being held at Daytona Speedway because you couldn't find a large enough place on short notice?

MR. MCCURRY: No. Daytona Speedway is where they sort of staged the firefighting missions that went out. That's where they based a lot of the firefighters who have been working and who will continue to work in coming weeks. That was kind of their camp over the last week or so.

Q Can you explain why you are not a litigant in this Secret Service thing, why you separated yourself out?

MR. MCCURRY: Because the President and the White House Legal Counsel felt that as the protectee, the President being the protectee along with his family, that the judgments made about his personal security should be best made by the professionals who are assigned by law the responsibility of carrying out their jobs.

Q But wouldn't he have an opinion on people who are protecting him becoming spies?

MR. MCCURRY: He may very well have an opinion and he has addressed himself on one occasion to that. But in light of the fact that he did not directly argue and the White House did not directly argue in the case, we're refraining from comment. And you just will have to bear with the fact that there is no comment from us on this decision.

Q But if former Presidents, like Bush and others, can weigh in and express their opinion, former Vice Presidents like Quayle can weigh in, why can't the incumbent President weigh in?

MR. MCCURRY: Because everyone is free to choose how they wish to comment or not comment on the litigation; the President elected not to.

Q Just so it's clear; the President and the White House is not involved in the Justice Department decision as to whether to appeal this or not?

MR. MCCURRY: We are not involved or consulted on whether or not to file on behalf of the Secret Service. That was handled by lawyers at the Treasury Department and the Justice Department. They did not consult with us, and we did not share with them any thinking on the matter as the case developed, and are not playing any role in the decision on appeal.

Q Is it because it is President Clinton's behavior that they want to --

MR. MCCURRY: No, Ann, that's not accurate. I just gave you the reason. He is the protectee and he feels like the decisions that are made about his protection ought to be made by the professionals who are charged with that responsibility under the law. Don't try to twist what I said into something else.

Q But, in fairness, they consult with -- I mean, his detail chief consults with the President about things that --

MR. MCCURRY: Sure, what time are you going to out tomorrow morning and where are you going to go and that kind of thing, that's right. But that's not a matter of law. They don't consult with him on matters of law that I'm aware of.

Q But he certainly would have insight into this question, being a protectee.

MR. MCCURRY: If he does, he elected not to share any insight.

Q If there were legislation defining what the Secret Service's protective function actually was and passed by Congress, would he sign it?

MR. MCCURRY: He would be affected by it and would live with the law. And if it was passed by Congress and presented to him, he would have to review it and make a decision as to whether it should be signed, consistent with what he thinks is in the best interest of the United States of America.

Q Is the President thinking of introducing or proposing such legislation?

MR. MCCURRY: No. You guys are not going to get a comment from here on this story. So you can waste your time if you choose. It's up to you.

Q It's a hopeful world we live in. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Anything else? See you tomorrow.

END 1:25 P.M.