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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 14, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                             MIKE MCCURRY 

The Briefing Room

1:59 P.M.

MR. MCCURRY: What do I have today? Nothing.

Q Trent Lott's accusations?

MR. MCCURRY: What was that about? That was politics, pure and simple. (Laughter.)

Q An independent counsel --

MR. MCCURRY: The question is, Senator Lott's comments, which I found if they weren't so flabbergasting they would be somewhat amusing.

Q Wait a minute. Read slowly.

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Lott said they had reached no final conclusions, but they had reached five major interim judgments, which struck me a little bit like Alice in Wonderland time -- you know, verdict first -- sentence first, verdict afterwards, facts sooner or later forgotten.

We've addressed these issues and made it quite clear that the license waivers granted by the Clinton administration, pursuant to a policy developed by President Reagan and first implemented by President Bush, had been consistent with U.S. interest and had been consistent with our desire to be competitive in the global satellite and technology market.

And they've now had, I think, something like 18 hearings on the Hill; they've got more scheduled. There will be administration witnesses from Commerce, from Defense, from the intelligence community, from the State Department who have testified in excruciating detail about this matter and made it quite clear what this policy is and what it is not.

And Senator Lott today tried to connect a lot of dots that, frankly, don't connect. And our judgment here is that that was not a serious statement by a serious person; it was a political argument made by a politician for political benefit.

Q -- said they might provide $3.5 billion in funding for the IMF, not the $18 billion or there about that you had asked for. Would that be a suitable stopgap measure?

MR. MCCURRY: We need to work through the funding commitments that we have laid before the Congress and arrive at a replenishment of the resources to the IMF to allow them to do the work they're doing. We've had a lot of conversation back and forth with the IMF and the administration through the Treasury Department. We have been up on the Hill and have briefed relevant members of the Congress on those requirements, and we're going to proceed to work with them. But we need to get the right kind of replenishment to get the job done. And we think that the request that we've made is the accurate and the correct number.

Q Mike, you're not saying that Senator Lott is not a serious person?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that that statement today he made on the Senate floor was not a serious statement.

Q By a serious person?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he can be more serious and bring more reasoned argument to a serious matter like this than he did today.

Q On the IMF, are you saying that you only want the full $18 billion, you don't want the $3.5 billion or the $3.5 billion is a good start, but not enough?

MR. MCCURRY: We want to get the job done, and I'm not going to pre-judge some of the conversations that are underway with the Hill. We'll see where we come out on that. But we first and foremost need to get continuity and the arrangements for borrowing so that they can continue to do the work they're doing in Asia, Russia, and elsewhere. And we'll work with the Congress to arrive at a satisfactory funding proposal for the U.S. contribution what is obviously a vital effort that affects Americans. It's not charity; this is in our strategic, economic interest.

Q In addition, I think Mr. Armey said that they would attack abortion provisions to any IMF funding.

MR. MCCURRY: This is more fooling around with them on a serious matter. It is time for this Congress to get serious and stop fooling around. And they know -- this is just back to close down the government time. And they play these games, and there's serious work to do. And there's not much time left to do it, and they need to get on with business and get serious and stop fooling around.

Q My question is would President Clinton veto that or not accept that if the abortion provisions were there?

MR. MCCURRY: The President's views on abortion rider language is well-known, and they're not going to change. And first and foremost, we need to do this serious work that will protect the economic interests of the American people. And if you want to have philosophical debates about wedge issues for political reasons, do that in November. But let's do the serious business we need to do now to protect the interests of all Americans.

Q Wasn't it really an equivalent matter? I mean, if the President thinks that it's so urgent to get that money, why wouldn't he just accept that language? It was in force previously; why wouldn't he just accept it to try to get the money if it's so critical to national security?

MR. MCCURRY: Because it's mixing an incendiary issue upon which the President's views, as a matter of conscience, are well-known, into a delicate issue of international economic policy. And that's not the way to do serious business. And the patience that the President has and the White House has for that kind of debate is growing thin. And we think that the American people are beginning to wonder why we can't seem to get on with orderly business on this issue and so many other issues.

Q Recently, dozens of -- Greek Americans, including administration officials -- sent a letter saying that the administration policy on Cyprus be reviewed to prevent possible war between -- Greek Americans claim the Clinton administration will take considerable blame. Has the President responded to that?

MR. MCCURRY: We have received that letter from a number of prominent Greek Americans on the subject of Cyprus. We disagree with some of the characterizations of American policy contained in that letter. The National Security Council is drafting for the President's benefit a response that we intend to send shortly. But the letter will certainly make clear that our Cyprus policy continues to be to make every effort to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict that has divided that island for too long and to continue to use the diplomatic efforts of the United States to try to bring reconciliation.

Q -- the Secretary General will be in town tomorrow. Any meeting with the President scheduled --

MR. MCCURRY: Is Secretary General Solano here tomorrow?

COLONEL CROWLEY: He's here in town. He will be here on campus sometime this week. I don't know what the --

MR. MCCURRY: Sometime during his stay here he will be here. We're not certain that he intends to meet with the President. He'll probably have a scheduled meeting with others, but we'll alert you if there's any change in the President's plans.

Q Mike, does the President plan to attend or send a representative or a message to Saturday's dedication here in Washington of the half-million dollar federally financed African American Civil War memorial? I have a follow up.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I'll have to check on that.

Q Well, one of the invited speakers is African American psychiatrist, Dr. Emerson Emery, of Dallas, who has just been disinvited because a federal archivist named Walter Hill disapproves of the fact that, like a lot of people in Arkansas -- a lot of them --

MR. MCCURRY: (Humming Jeopardy theme.) (Laughter.) Is there a question coming? Can we get to it sooner, rather than later?

Q Thank you very much. Dr. Emery's great grandfather fought in the Confederate Army. Now, does the White House believe that where federal funds are involved there should be such ancestral discrimination, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that federal taxpayers' funds should be spent wisely. I'm not familiar with the matter you're talking about.

Q You don't think this is wise, do you?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the matter and I'd have to look into to comment further.

Anything else that we need to do today?

Q Mike, on another issue, the President said earlier today that he believed the IMF loan would help create some stability, more stability in Russia. Is there any concern, in light of their economic problems and, at times, short memory, that there are any undercurrents of threats of a coup or anything like that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we believe that economic stability in Russia is very important. It is important, first and foremost, to the people of Russia, but it's also important to the efforts of the world community to bring about the transformation that's occurring in Russia, a favorable one towards markets economics, towards democracy, towards pluralism, and political instability, which sometimes can arise from severe economic conditions is diminished when the economy is strong. The purpose of the IMF program is to restore vigor to the Russian economy and to help the Russian people build stronger and brighter financial futures for all of the citizens of Russia. And we think the IMF program will work successfully towards that end.

Q Was there any information from intelligence that there were concerns that there was going to be --

MR. MCCURRY: Intelligence questions we don't discuss in on-the-record briefings in any way, shape or form, without saying yes or no.

Q Does the President agree with the Justice Department's decision to appeal the Secret Service testimony?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is not going to render an opinion on that.

Q What's the President going to do in Little Rock and New Orleans?

MR. MCCURRY: He's going to see some friends in Little Rock. He's going to participate in some activities to benefit the Arkansas Democratic Party and the Senate candidate down there. And then he goes on to New Orleans to address the American Federation of Teachers and to participate in some more political DNC fundraising.

Q Why is the President not going to render an opinion on the decision to appeal?

MR. MCCURRY: Because he just chooses not to. It's a matter being handled by the Treasury Department and the Justice Department.

Q But if he didn't want them to appeal, certainly they would not be.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if that's true or not. Given how strong Mr. Merletti has indicated that he feels about the matter, I don't know if his opinion would have overridden the Director's strong opinion or whether the Secretary of Treasury would have accepted that judgment. That's a hypothetical question, and I don't --

Q Well, doesn't the Secretary of Treasury do what the President asks him to do?

MR. MCCURRY: I think on this issue, the Secret Service has very strong feelings about their statutory responsibilities. I can't predict for you whether they would have been sufficient to override any feelings that the President may or may not have had on this subject. I don't know.

Q Has the President, on occasion, left the White House compound in the evening or at night without a press pool?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm ever aware of -- I'm not aware of any such occasion.

Q And would he -- is there any circumstance that you know of that he might have left without a security detail?

MR. MCCURRY: Given how seriously an answer to the previous question, how seriously the Secret Service takes its statutory obligations, I can't imagine that happening.

Q But there have been Presidents before who have been able to allude the Secret Service.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of the circumstances of previous Presidents.

Q But to the best of your knowledge he hasn't gone out without --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any such circumstance.

Q -- not without a protective detail, but without a press --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any such circumstance. I'm not aware of any factual basis you would have to even pose the question.

Q Lott and others on the Hill have also said, on the satellite question, that the administration has not been forthcoming enough in terms of providing information to --

MR. MCCURRY: That is ludicrous. I just told you, they have eight committees looking into this; we've cooperated with all them, to my knowledge. We've given hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of documentation to them. We've had top-level administration witnesses explain in categorical detail the basis of the license waivers given and demonstrated I think to their satisfaction that the license waivers that have been granted by this President are consistent with the policy pursued by the previous Republican President. And I think Trent Lott is making politics and not making serious judgments about the facts.

Q But does the President think the policy has given the Chinese a leg up on the --

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President is confident that the license that he's granted have not contributed to China's ability to design, develop, operate, maintain, modify or repair satellite launch vehicles.

Q -- IMF is dipping into the general agreements tomorrow, do you have a detail on the amount of money that the U.S. might provide?

MR. MCCURRY: I've got a lot of detail on the way that the package for Russia will work. But it's, frankly, better that the Treasury Department walk you through that, because they can tell you more about funding commitments the U.S has made and then what the IMF and the World Bank are going to provide. And I'd rather have some of their folks do that. If you have any trouble, let us know and we'll put you in contact with them.

Q This morning you mentioned that the White House was considering the possibility of suing the tobacco companies on behalf of Medicare. Is that something that you would wait until after you were sure there were absolutely no chance of legislation to do? Or is that something that might happen even before --

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's probably a likely judgment.

Q You would wait to know that it was completely, utterly dead --

MR. MCCURRY: We believe, first and foremost, that we need the kind of comprehensive approach we've suggested and legislation, but one way or another, the effort to protect kids from tobacco use and the effort to assemble the kind of resources we need to counteract the effect of tobacco advertising and tobacco addiction that that's going to proceed one way or another.

Q Mike, do you hope that by discussing a suit now that it might force the tobacco industry to think twice about its opposition to legislation?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, if it had that effect I'm not sure that would be an undesirable effect; but I don't think that's the intent.

Q What prompted the President's participation in the year 2000 event today, and how do you respond to Republicans, especially those angling for the party's 2000 presidential nomination criticism that the White House has been too slow on this problem to date?

MR. MCCURRY: The purpose of the former was to stem the criticism implied in the latter. (Laughter.)

Q What about the event tomorrow? Is the President going to the AMA and what is he supposed to --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have details on the event tomorrow. We'll do that at the end.

Q Mike, some conservative religious groups are sponsoring ads and newspapers that -- let's see what they say -- "gays can overcome their sexual identity through God." What's your comment?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we need to have a comment on that. I think those are statements of faith and strong belief made by the individuals who signed the ad or the organizations that signed the ad. There's ample evidence from the psychiatric community that there may be reasons to question that pronouncement as a matter of science. But as a matter of faith, one is entitled to believe what one believes as a matter of faith.

The concern obviously is there have been a variety of statements -- I don't suggest that the sponsors of that ad have this attitude -- but there are statements that might have the effect of giving comfort to those who really have feelings of hatred and prejudice. That's not the motive, clearly, of the people who have signed this ad, according to the words that are in the ad. But the concern is that you can make it easy for people to be comfortable with their own prejudice. And that's a real concern that this President has and is very concerned, first and foremost, about the efforts on Capital Hill to really legislate an acceptance of intolerance and discrimination against gays and lesbians, which is what is going on up there right now. And I think we would rather keep our eye on what's happening in Congress.

Q You think that's going to be a Republican issue in the fall or in the year 2000?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I don't know whether they think gay bashing is good politics. There's some that, apparently, act like they believe that.

Q Does the feeling extend to other sexual orientations like S&M -- (laughter.) I mean, there's a lot of S&M people around.

MR. MCCURRY: It's an unrelated issue, and those treated differently by the medical community. By the way, you asked me a question several weeks ago on that in which you had your facts wrong, because, in fact, the DSM does list some of the things that you cited to me as issues that ought to be treated by the medical community as medical problems.

Q I don't recall ever asking that. You must have been a mistake.

MR. MCCURRY: You can go back and look at your transcript, and go refresh your memory.

Q I'm not aware of any scheduled action on the Coverdell education bill or the IRS reform bill. Any progress on --

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't checked on that. They haven't sent it here to us yet.

Q Mike, the 2000 bug, we're told that it's going to cost $5 billion dollars. Can you give us a sense of how that breaks down, where that would come from?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't. Mr. Koskinen would have been better to ask. We can try to get it -- see if he's got any kind of breakdown on it. I think that's a government -- he did break it down a little bit, they say by years.

Q What was the outcome of the economic meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: The Social Security meeting -- the President got a good briefing in preparation for the discussion Monday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, just where the debate is, what some of the different ideas are that have been advanced and some of the various proposals on long-term entitlement reform that are pending -- a week from Monday. Monday is New Orleans and the following week is Albuquerque.

Q What's he doing for the rest of the day?

MR. MCCURRY: He's got phone and office time this afternoon. I haven't heard whether he's going out or not yet.

Okay. Thank you. Tomorrow, health care -- it's going to be a roundtable on the Patient's Bill of Rights. It will reaffirm the President's strong view that we need to take steps that will protect patients and protect health care consumers in this country and to move forward on some of the things that we believe the President has made a good case for and that the Republicans are coming around to showing some interest in.

Q Who are the participants in the roundtable?

Q Where is it?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll try to get some schedule information for you after. I don't have that here. If you don't have it, we'll get it for you after the briefing.

What are we doing tomorrow? Roundtable.

MR. LOCKHART: Doing a roundtable with some people who are directly affected --

MR. MCCURRY: When and where?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.

MR. MCCURRY: Okay. We'll go find out and post it.

Q Does he have any other meetings with members of Congress this week?

MR. MCCURRY: He may. I wouldn't rule it out. I don't know of any scheduled.

Q Thursday -- can you talk about this Thursday now?

MR. MCCURRY: Thursday, I don't know. I'm barely able to do Wednesday, so I don't know why you'd ask me about Thursday. (Laughter.) -- 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, in the AMA conference room, a small group of health care community professionals, probably some Cabinet members, and a roundtable discussion about patient's rights.

Q The American Medical?

Q Where?

MR. MCCURRY: At the AMA conference room.

Q At AMA headquarters?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Don't have an address here, wherever the AMA is headquartered. The AMA's office here. Tight pool, most likely.

Q Are they for it?

Q Is it open coverage?

MR. MCCURRY: Tight pool, most likely, I said.

Q There's an event scheduled for the South Lawn that's listed as pool coverage. Could that be correct?


Q Tomorrow evening, tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., on your week ahead. Is there a reason why the South Lawn is just --

MR. MCCURRY: I'll find out. I don't know. I don't make those decisions.

MR. TOIV: There's a reception for the empowerment conference.

MR. MCCURRY: We'll find out about it. I don't know.

Okay. Thank you.

END 2:17 P.M. EDT