THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:15 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: A couple things to catch up from earlier when I talked to you. The President did drop by the meeting that Sandy Berger had with Secretary General Solana. They had a very good session, sort of anticipating the Washington summit that will occur next year, next spring, the 50th anniversary summit of the North Atlantic Alliance, and talked a little bit about how we can maximize the use of that occasion to do some long-range thinking about the future of the Alliance and how this, what arguably is the world's most successful military treaty alliance, can be adopted and structured to meet the challenges of the post-Cold War world and the next century. So a good discussion on that, and they also reviewed the status of military contingency planning on Kosovo, which continues -- events on the ground, of course, shape the thinking of NATO military planners, but the President emphasized it was important to have available options that could be considered, depending on what kind of outcome or lack of outcome there is in the effort to get the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbians in more direct dialogue on a peaceful reconciliation of their differences over the status of Kosovo.
So the President appreciated that opportunity to see the Secretary General. He has not signed the waiver that I mentioned earlier on Helms-Burton, but I expect him to do so when he's done with some meetings he's got, and he's got some bills that he'll be signing this afternoon that we'll have more paper on later.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not one of them. I don't think that he -- it looks like there's a child support enforcement measure, which looks like it's the most newsworthy one -- some OSHA items. He is, as the Vice President told the NAACP in Atlanta today, he's also signing the act that will begin the process of locating a Martin Luther King memorial here in Washington.
Q Mike, the appeals panel has just issued an opinion that says, "the President's agents have literally declared war on the independent counsel" -- that's from a federal appeals court panel.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the question is on whether Secret Service agents will testify, and as you know, we are not a party in that litigation. So you should really first go to the people who are parties in that litigation, and get a response to them.
Q Mike, the federal judge is saying --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen that piece of paper you are waving at me, so I'm not going to react to that.
Q Mike, a federal judge is saying you are at war with the independent council. Is that true?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, war is -- the President was just dealing with the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and that is a military alliance. And war is a very precise term of art around here, and the Commander-in-Chief takes that seriously. We are not at war with Ken Starr, but we have some serious disagreements with him, obviously.
Q Can the President separate himself from the administration, really? The Justice Department --
MR. MCCURRY: On this matter, he elects to, Helen, because he is the guy protected. And the people who do the protecting by law are the ones who have to make the arguments in the courts about what they need in order to do their work.
Q So it's a totally independent decision without any -- even though it's his administration.
MR. MCCURRY: The White House Legal Counsel told me today that they have played no role in consulting or decision-making about how the Justice Department will represent the Treasury Department and the Secret Service in this litigation.
Q Well, is it your understanding that the other parts of the administration will, in fact, now, apply to Justice Renquist --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't tell you. I don't know. I do not know, Sam.
Q -- for a stay beyond tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: You're at the White House and you need to go talk to the Justice Department or the Treasury Department about that.
Q Can you at least give us -- you were willing to give us your response yesterday to this issue. I wonder, now that it looks like it has to go to the Supreme Court, what your reaction --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that that's the case, Claire. You're making an --
Q The appeals court has just given a deadline until tomorrow.
MR. MCCURRY: Until tomorrow. And what the Justice Department is going to do about that, the Justice Department will tell you.
Q Why wouldn't the President just say to his agents, guys, go up and testify, tell the truth, it will show that I have not been engaged in wrongdoing?
MR. MCCURRY: Because they feel strongly about their need for that protection. They think it's important to the way they do their job. The Attorney General spoke to that yesterday. And the President, as the person who's protected and whose family is protected by the Secret Service, has never been in the business of second-guessing the judgment of those who, by law, protect him. It's their judgment that they --
Q -- help end this long national nightmare, to coin a phrase?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, this has not been a nightmare, this has been a case of these dedicated professional law enforcement officers making an argument about what they need to do in order to be able to do their jobs. And you need to talk to them -- they're very open in describing why they feel that way and making the case. And we defer to their judgment when it comes to security.
How often do you ask me questions about security, and I say, look, we don't comment about security because it involves the safety of the President and his family. And that's the reason we do it.
Q Pardon the interruption. You tried to separate the President from this case, but the appeals court panel says this afternoon the Attorney General --
MR. MCCURRY: Scott, you already --
Q -- is, in effect, acting as the President's counsel and has gone --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen -- you're reading me a piece of paper I haven't seen. I'm not going to react to something I haven't seen, I'm sorry.
Q I'm reading it to you so you can understand what it says.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to react it. We'll read it and we have anything to say about it, we'll tell you later. I'm just not going to react on the fly.
Q Mike, is the Attorney General --
MR. MCCURRY: You can read it all you want. I'm not going to react on the fly to something I haven't read.
Q Mike, is the Attorney General acting as the President's counsel?
Q Mike, you've gone back and forth on how much the President has been distracted from time to time by the Starr investigation. Where do we stand now?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been working on an awful lot of things today, and if you want to ask them we can get into it, but very little having to do with this matter. We just got back from Capitol Hill. We've been working on a patients' bill of rights today and we had a good and very productive session on that. We had a number of Republicans who have indicated their support of the approach the President and others are trying to advance there. And the President has kept his focus on those issues as properly he should.
Q Mike, is the Attorney General acting as the President's counsel in this matter?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because the President doesn't need representation in this matter, Scott. She is representing the Secret Service. The Justice Department serves as attorney for the Secret Service, the Treasury Department, which oversees the Secret Service.
Q Well, Mike, can you explain why the Appeals Court has failed to see the point that you have been making over and over again here, which is this is not the President, it's just the Secret Service? They seem to be taking this as the President and his representatives.
MR. MCCURRY: I have not read this opinion and I don't -- I'm not familiar with it. I'll see if our counsel has got anything to say on it.
Q But doesn't the President -- I mean, this is somebody potentially, Larry Cockell, who might, for example, tomorrow be assigned to spend the next four days with him. Potentially, he could have spent all day today answering questions. Doesn't the President have any feeling about that at all?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's outer office is filled with people who have been in front of that same grand jury to testify.
Q But not somebody guarding his life.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, those people who work with him closely have been down to testify and I don't think I've seen the President bothered by that in the least.
Q Mike, didn't the President's own lawyers get involved in this case yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's lawyer said they want to protect their attorney-client relationship and the privilege of the communications that they have with their client, which is a pretty straightforward and narrow matter and doesn't go to the heart of whether or not the agents in question should testify.
Q Mike, in this matter, do you believe that the Justice Department has reached the limits of what is can honorably pursue?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have an opinion on that. You should ask the Justice Department, Scott. You're in the wrong place if you want to get a reaction to the story. You need to go talk to those who are party to the litigation at the Justice Department.
Q Has the Justice Department acted honorably in this case? It's a department that answers to the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so, but I have not followed every jot and tittle of what they have argued in court. It's not our case.
Q Has Larry Cockell's ability to function as the chief of the Protective Detail been impaired or harmed in any way simply by the subpoenaing of him and pushing him into the limelight?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a judgment that you might want to ask people who are knowledgeable and expert in questions of executive protection. Whether or not the Service feels that his role has been compromised is something that they should answer because they are the ones who know the answers to questions like that. That's not what we do here at the White House. We don't --
Q Well, you say the President feels confident in his agent, right? He doesn't think that this subpoena has --
MR. MCCURRY: He thinks Larry is a great guy, and he thinks he's a superb, dedicated professional law enforcement officer. And he knows that if he ever has to testify, he'll testify completely and truthfully. But whether or not he testifies is an argument that's taking place for reasons that the Attorney General has made clear that she agrees with that arise out of concerns expressed by the Secret Service and the Secretary of the Treasury. We are not a party to that litigation. I'm sorry.
Q Mike, what happened to the "chilling effect" argument that was made?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has said there could be conceivably a chilling effect. He answered that generically on what the effect would be on the presidency and future Presidents -- him included -- if the testimony was to go forward. But he has not commented directly on each and every aspect of this litigation and chooses not to do so now.
Q Aren't we at that point now where we would see the chilling effect? I mean that's precisely what's happening.
MR. MCCURRY: Conceivably, yes.
Q But you seem to be arguing or saying that the position is that it's more important to protect what the Agency sees as a protection function than to clear the President of the United States of these kinds of accusations. That's hard to understand.
MR. MCCURRY: I think as a human being, if Bill Clinton knew that these guys were going and testifying and clear him, of course, he would want to do that, but I think he understands why, as a matter of principle, the Department of Treasury, on behalf of the Secret Service, made this argument in court.
Q So, theoretically, he would be willing to go down rather than have testimony that might clear him on the public record. That is mind-boggling.
MR. MCCURRY: Sam, that's not going to happen because there's nothing that he has done, or nothing that he is concerned about that would lead to that conclusion, or lead to that problem.
Q Then let them testify.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I know that's hard for you to understand, but there's a matter of principle that the Secret Service feels strongly about here, okay. And they've made it clear why, and the Attorney General said publicly yesterday that she agreed with all her heart in the argument they were making.
Q Why can't the President uphold that principle?
MR. MCCURRY: So you can dispute that and not like that and chafe at that, but that's the reality.
Q Mike, the judges today called that an "absurdity".
MR. MCCURRY: Then go talk to the people who made the argument and ask them what their reaction to that is. We didn't make that argument.
Q Mike, again, you like to separate the President from this case, but you'll find it --
MR. MCCURRY: The President is not in this case other than he is the guy who's protected by the Secret Service.
Q Well, he's in it now.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, then, we'll look at whatever opinion you're waving at me there and see if the Counsel's office something to say about it.
Q The Attorney General --
Q Scott read you the section --
Q Excuse me, Sam. The Attorney General is acting as the President's counsel --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't react on the fly to something that a court has said, okay? That's just a practice of mine and it's served me pretty well. I will go to the people who are lawyers here, who work for the Counsel's Office, and see if they have anything they want to say. And, Scott, please don't take any more time reading to me something I'm not going to react to.
Q Mike, there's an internal audit at the World Bank about misuse of funds. Does the White House have a position on that? And will it undermine its efforts to get funding for the IMF?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we think that they have acted very directly and clearly in looking at what are very serious allegations. We did get a briefing from World Bank staff about it and we understand the management of the World Bank has got an investigative process that they're going to use that includes an outside independent firm to look at the allegations. And, obviously, we would encourage them to get to the bottom of that. There has to be full faith and confidence in the ability of the World Bank to fund the projects that are necessary to the economic development of those countries in which it works. And as one of the major donor actors and one of the major decision-makers within the World Bank, we would expect nothing less than the kind of careful attention that they're devoting to this.
Q This lack of accountability has kept Congress from approving these funds in the past. Will this hurt the current push to --
MR. MCCURRY: We have been making pretty clear arguments to the World Bank, and repeating them to Congress, about the need for transparency and accuracy and full accounting when it comes to understanding better the work of the World Bank. And that separately had been proceeding, and we had been making progress on that.
Q Mike, just to continue on the World Bank, yesterday several Republican leaders in the House made comments that seemed to clear the way for IMF funding. Is that --
MR. MCCURRY: We're very encouraged to see that those that in the past had put up some roadblocks to our participation in these international financial institutions are now reconsidering and seeing that the urgency of the crisis that is faced by some regional economies, particularly in Asia, Russia as well, require the availability of a well-financed, fully credited IMF. And obviously we're going to press very hard for full funding. They've talked about some of the interim funding that we need to go forward immediately, but there have been statements from the Hill that we appreciated, indicating that it's likely that the administration will get funding for its full request. And we certainly hope so and certainly would expect so.
Q Is the President concerned about the economy?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. He's particularly concerned about the effect that some of these changes in the Asian economy might have on the global economy and indirectly on the United States. So far, the strength of our economy has held us up pretty well, but clearly, in an interdependent global economy, there are going to be impacts when you see the kind of dislocations that have occurred around Asia and seen the drop in import activity by some of those countries, seen the lack of domestic demand in countries like Japan. All of those connect now and come back here to affect the lives of Americans who produce goods and services that are purchased by these other countries.
So, yes, we have been quite concerned about the effect, and that's why we've worked hard and pressed upon our Congress the importance of giving the IMF and other international financial institutions the resources they need to do some of the repair work that they're doing in economies like Russia and Asia.
Q Mike, would you agree that the investigation of the President places terrible political pressure on the Attorney General?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no comment on that, Scott. You can go ask the Attorney General. She got asked for about five hours yesterday questions much to that same effect, so you got sound bites you can roll out from yesterday on that.
Q Is the White House pressuring the Attorney General?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we're not pressuring the Attorney General. If she's been receiving any pressure, it's the kind of pressure she received yesterday from members of Congress.
Q The Air Force Secretary nominee of the President, Darrell Jones, there was Hill testimony today from a former commanding officer who accused Mr. Jones of having lied when he was in the service. Is the President reconsidering the nomination? Does that concern him?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with that. I'd have to look into that.
Q Mike, last night -- or yesterday afternoon, the President met on agricultural matters. In Texas there is some concern about the speed at which the Agriculture Department is granting various relief requests. Is the President satisfied that everything is being done to handle the job --
MR. MCCURRY: I know that there was a lot of discussion by members who met with the President yesterday about the importance of speeding disaster relief, and particularly, some of the programs that Ag runs to provide relief from crop failures and some of the weather effects that we've seen down there. I'll look into it. I had not heard a direct report on that, but I think there was -- Secretary Glickman had indicated that they were working very quickly to respond to that and he was aware of some of the concerns that had been expressed and was looking into their regional offices to see what they could do to accelerate some of the payments of claims. But we'll check further at Ag for you on that.
Yes, in back.
Q Do you think Republicans are open to compromise on a patient bill of rights, specifically on the issue of whether patients could sue their HMOs?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the Republicans are coming around to a point of view that there needs to be protections for consumers; there need to be ways in which people who are maimed or who die have access to compensation that they certainly are entitled to. And I think that there will be a strong effort by the White House to see if we can't accommodate everyone's concerns and move to final passage a measure that would ultimately give patients the bill of rights that the President has long called for.
I think that the prospect is there. Whether we arrive at that point or not is hard to say. But it was certainly encouraging today to see some brave Republicans step forward and say, look, this is a good approach, the President and others on the Hill have fashioned a way to proceed on this issue that makes sense, that protects consumers and improves the quality of health care at a reasonable costs. There will be some cost; we acknowledge that, but we think it's reasonable. The premium increases that a typical family would pay will be far surpassed by the benefits they will get from better health, from earlier treatment, from earlier intervention in diseases which you can catch early and treat.
Q What else is he going to do to highlight this problem?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he had an event yesterday and had a good discussion of it today, and I think the President will find additional ways to continue to press the case to see if we can't get a bill and make some progress before the end of this session.
Q Mike, would you agree that litigating against the independent counsel is dishonorable?
MR. MCCURRY: No. No.
Q Why would you think it was an honorable pursuit to litigate against the independent council?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, you are going to have to go elsewhere to get your sound bite for your piece tonight, okay? I'm just -- sorry, I'm not going to help you.
Q Mike, it's all about the White House. The White House doesn't have a reaction? This is a fair shot we're giving you.
MR. MCCURRY: I've given you three or four different times here an explanation of who you should go to get to make this argument -- it's an important one. It's being made by serious professional law enforcement officials. It's not a political argument. It's an argument about what is necessary to protect the life of this President and future Presidents, okay? And the people who should make that argument, make it to the American people through CBS news, are people who are expert and proficient in executive protection. They are at the Secret Service, and my understanding is that they are more than happy to be available to you.
Q Allegations to be made against the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: The other allegations are something that I have not read, and I've made that very clear to you four or five times now, and I'm not going to react to you until I read it, until I talk to others here at the White House and in the Counsel's Office whose job it is to respond to these things.
Q Not the three judges. Judge Silverman in a concurring opinion --
Q Will you come out and talk to us again after you've had a chance?
MR. MCCURRY: Judge Silverman or -- we'll see if someone -- you are not in agreement then on what it is --
Q No, he said one judge.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll go see if there's anyone who wants to talk further on this.
Q Mike, would the President like to see on the same subject a bipartisan bill that sets limits on Secret Service testimony?
MR. MCCURRY: I have never explored that topic with him.
Q Mike, the President hasn't talked much about tobacco lately, and when you listed things the other day that you thought could be passed this year, you didn't mention tobacco. Has that issue been put on the back burner a little bit at this point, and what do you view as the prospect?
MR. MCCURRY: Not on the back burner. I think you know that there have been some -- the venue has changed somewhat. The states have been looking at the question of what they might do to settle claims that they have outstanding. And I think there's been some deference to see what kind of discussions are developing at the state level through the attorneys general. That's going to ultimately affect what we do here. We continue to believe that there's good, strong support on the Hill for a comprehensive approach on tobacco, and, of course, we want to see action move forward. But I think that everyone recognizes that that issue is stuck for the moment, and we're looking at ways to see if we can get it unstuck.
Q Well, wait a second. You're saying that you want to wait. I thought the states -- you think no matter what the states could work out with the tobacco companies, that's not enough for you. So why would you give deference to the states?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because whatever they work out might affect what kind of comprehensive legislation we would push to get.
Q But that could go for weeks, those discussions, and there are only weeks left in the session. I mean, does that mean that you're not pressing that hard for tobacco legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: We are pressing hard to see if we can get unjammed the comprehensive approach, but the reality is, people are watching to see what happens in these conversations that the state attorneys general are having right now.
Q So have you downgraded the process for a comprehensive bill this year then?
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't downgraded our desire for it. The prospects, you would have to factually say, have been downgraded, sure.
Q Mike, yesterday when you announced the sanctions against the Russian companies, do you have any evidence that that move has increased the chances in the Senate of sustaining the President's veto?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that it was an important development. It was certainly a development that we called to the attention of many members of Congress and I think many members of Congress were encouraged to see the government of the Russian Federation act so directly against those who we have got some concerns about when it comes to proliferation matters.
Q But are you more confident now, based on that reaction, that you can sustain the President's veto?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to predict. I think we're making a good, strong argument of why we need to sustain that veto, and we'll see how it goes.
Q On the patient bill of rights you said you want a plan that has reasonable costs. Do you the medical savings accounts, particularly if they're unlimited, constitute unreasonable costs?
MR. MCCURRY: We think that can lead to unreasonable outcomes, and we've expressed our concerns about that. I think you know that we're very dubious about how they would work in practice.
Q Mike, were you able to ascertain whether the White House is aware of new information that Lott mentioned about Chinese efforts to influence the '96 campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: I've checked on that, and I'm reasonably confident that we are aware of whatever information Senator Lott is aware of. I can't tell you for certain what we think he was describing as new information, but we're confident that whatever was briefed to the Hill and briefed to the relevant committees has been briefed to the administration.
Q Well, does that information indicate that there were efforts by the Chinese to influence the elections?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- whatever the information was, it's obviously classified, so I'm not going to describe it other than to say that it has not altered the approach that we've used diplomatically to address this issue, and I think you all know how we have addressed this issue.
Q Is it to fair to characterize it as new information, though, as --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that it would be lawful for me to answer how new it may or may not be.
Q I'm not asking you to describe the information, simply whether it --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the same problem arises. I'm not sure if I can tell you how current or how new it is.
Q The law goes to shelf --
MR. MCCURRY: Sometimes it does, yes.
Q Has it been raised with the Chinese, have you approached them about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know the answer to that from President Jiang Zemin. I mean, the issue has certainly been raised and President Jiang Zemin told you.
Q Since the arrival, though, of this new information, whatever it may be.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we have altered any aspect of our diplomacy based on any briefing since the trip.
Q Mike, does that mean then that the President does not consider the information to have crossed the threshold he set when he said that were there substantial indications that the Chinese tried to influence the election, he'd consider that a very serious matter?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has already indicated -- well, you already have an indication of how seriously the President takes the issue, because you know from the President of China that the President of the United States raised it very directly and presumably, quite forcefully, when we were in Beijing.
Q Well, Lott had a very specific assessment of what the information means. Does the White House disagree with Lott's conclusions?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to disagree with Senator Lott, but you heard Senator Kerry's views on that subject.
Q Mike, do the President's lawyers plan to remain involved in this battle over the Secret Service -- they got involved yesterday; do you expect them to remain involved?
MR. MCCURRY: They haven't been involved in the litigation, Deborah, they expressed a concern about the President's attorney-client privilege. They are willing to reassert that, if necessary, but there hasn't been any reason for them to have that concern because there's been no testimony sought today.
Q Haven't they been in contact with the Justice Department on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, they let the Justice Department know the same thing that they let you all know, that they've got a concern about an attempt to impede on attorney-client privilege.
Q On Helms-Burton, besides the announcement on the waiver for Chapter III, how is the situation about Chapter IV, the negotiations of the White House and Congress to apply a waiver to Chapter IV?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had consultations with Congress. I would not suggest that they resulted in any conclusion or any change in the strong opposition that has been expressed by some in Congress that we see any wholesale rewrite of the Helms-Burton Act.
Q With this opposition, do you see any chance to avoid the sanctions by the European Union?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we have demonstrated, through our diplomatic work with the European Union, that we can come to good outcomes when it comes to joining together to press for positive change towards democracy in Cuba. They are in many ways now finding ways to express their thoughts on issues like human rights, democracy, free markets, free enterprise. We are encouraged by the common position that's been taken by the European Union and restated, and we were encouraged that we came to agreement with the European Union on issues related to investments in confiscated property.
So I think that we've demonstrated a capacity to work with them and, if anything, we are moving away from acrimony over the invocation of sanctions and towards a more common approach when it comes to pressing for the kind of change we want to see in Cuba.
Q But, Mike, I thought the deal that you guys made in London was predicated on Congress granting this waiver. In other words, the Europeans were going to certain things if Congress --
MR. MCCURRY: We indicated that we would consult on whether or not there was sentiment in our Congress in favor of things like a permanent waiver of Title III or changes in Title IV.
Q But you didn't promise that you could get the waiver, but they -- I thought the agreement was that they wouldn't do certain things unless the waiver was gotten.
MR. MCCURRY: They certainly expect it and we certainly expect that we're going to work on the overall issues with the Union.
Q But until they get the waiver, they're certainly not -- they're not held to their end of the bargain, right?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that may be too shorthand a way to describe the work that we did together with them in May.
Q Is there any time frame for these final consultations with Congress? -- said that if they don't see any advance in these negotiations, they're going to apply to the of the organization in Geneva.
MR. MCCURRY: They are expecting to see progress, and we are aware of their concerns and are going to continue to work the issue with them.
Q Mike, is the President concerned that, with the removal of much of the sanctions against India and Pakistan and the failure of the Europeans to ever enact serious sanctions against India and Pakistan, that there won't be serious disincentives for other countries who develop nuclear weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we believe that the sanctions that have been invoked have had some real impact in both India and Pakistan. Remember that in the narrow area of commodities, for humanitarian reasons there have been some removal -- but I don't think it would be accurate to say that they've largely been removed. And I think that the degree to which India and Pakistan have both suffered in the eyes of the world community because of the decisions that they made with respect to testing is in itself a disincentive for countries to pursue programs. But we obviously are going to have to watch very carefully to see how other countries respond.
Q Mike, yesterday there was the first direct flight from the U.S. to Cuba in two years since the planes were shot down. Has the President expressed any opinion on the results of that flat?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard him address that matter, although I think it did come up at the State Department earlier.
COLONEL CROWLEY: Based on what the President announced earlier this year, Cuba has finally granted permission for the first direct flight.
MR. MCCURRY: This had been foreseen in some of the things the President had said earlier. And it includes changes that they have made with respect to some international aviation conventions. But I haven't had a direct reaction from the President, although I think the State Department may have.
Q Mike, when are we going to get the Coverdell school choice veto? Will it come before a speech before the Teachers Union?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have any timing on that and -- what's the deadline, do you know?
MR. TOIV: The 25th.
MR. MCCURRY: We have between now and the 25th, but no word on timing yet.
Q The President of the Cuban-American National Convention this morning said that President Clinton seems like he is an ally of Fidel Castro, trying to work with Congress this kind of waiver for the Helms-Burton law. What is the reason that this foundation now says this when the White House, when in the past we were close allies to the President of the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are lots of different points of view within the Cuban American community. I think there are many who see the utility of the work that we have done with the Europeans that I've just described to you. There are different voices there, and it is probably accurate to say that that is a movement that is going through a period of transition because of the death of Jorge Mas Canosa.
I think because of that, different people, from time to time, are going to stake out different positions and you're going to hear different voices within the community. And it's probably not a bad thing that within the Cuban American community there is more debate and more pluralistic point of view. But I think that you'll also hear people who have in the past been quite strong on this issue indicate that they are supportive of the President's decision to extend this waiver for the reasons the President will set forth in the statement that he issues. And we will see how the debate comes out.
Q Is the White House aware of any investigation over this foundation regarding the terrorist attacks last year in Cuba?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that they have gone at considerable length at the State Department on that issue, and I don't have much to add to what my colleagues over there have already said.
Q Are you discussing agreements similar to the one you have with the Europeans with other countries affected by the -
MR. MCCURRY: Have we talked to the Canadians on this? I think we have talked to the government of Canada, and I would have to check on others. But you may -- my understanding is that there are some discussions that are being held, or some briefings that might be held over at the State Department that you might want to check in on this afternoon.
Q No Latin American countries?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to -- why don't you check at State. And I think they have got someone who is going to be doing some backgrounding over there this afternoon.
Q Are all the Democrats behind the patients' bill of rights? There was a sparse -- sort of sparse audience, as I understand.
MR. MCCURRY: We have a lot. I mean, one would say that Democrats are preponderantly working on the measure the President was talking about today, although we are gratified that we've got Republican support for that bill.
MR. MCCURRY: Two who were there and there were seven co-sponsors, I think. And then, obviously, the Republican leadership has got an alternative bill. But we think that there is grounds for people to come together around a common approach.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:48 P.M. EDT