THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 18, 1998
REMARKS OF MIKE MCCURRY IN PRESS GAGGLE
Edgartown Elementary School Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
6:30 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Here, let me just give you a little bit of color. The President -- or a walk through the day, and some of you will get this from the pool report because I gave that to the TV people so that it could go on the air right now. But I'll repeat it for the benefit of anyone who didn't hear it earlier. The President came over to the office from the residence late morning, just after 11:00 a.m. this morning. He slept in this morning, worked out over there, spent time with his family and then came over to meet with Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and others on the staff.
The President worked through a lot of odds and ends that he had to clean up to get ready for vacation. He just cleared a lot of paper, he had a lot of memo traffic to work through, gave Erskine and John Podesta and Maria Echaveste some instructions on things he'd like to see pursued in the next several days. He'll get daily updates as he usually does during vacation and read them sporadically.
The President then had a foreign policy discussion with his principal foreign policy advisors, led by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. They touched on a range of subjects, most importantly Russia and Northern Ireland, looking ahead to the President's trip early next month. They also touched on the situation and the investigation in East Africa, Iraq, and the situation in the Balkans; the President doing some follow-up work on things that he has both set in motion and inquired about in the past on each of those subjects.
The President, during the course of the day, has probably talked to roughly a dozen members of Congress, most of them senators; most of them -- I think all of them Democrats. I'd say most of them had called in or left a message for the President, so he was returning those calls both in the morning and in the afternoon. He did place a few calls both to members of Congress and to other leaders of the Democratic Party to touch base, to get some reactions to his speech last night, and to also talk about the things he will do in the days ahead.
I'd say the President is gratified with the response to his remarks last night. He did not expect public opinion to change immediately, but he's gratified by some indications that the American public accepted what he had to say last night. But I think the President feels the most important thing he can do now is to, one, spend time with his family and do that in the privacy that he has requested so that he can do some repair work within his family; and two, to begin thinking about how he reinvigorates the agenda he lay before the country in the State of the Union address this year.
His conversations with most of the leaders of our party today were about how we begin to shape the agenda this fall when Congress comes back from -- and how we begin to build up momentum again for some of those things the President has been talking about in many, many months when some of Washington has been preoccupied with the Lewinsky matter.
A couple of color points. This is unfair to do since I put this challenge in front of one or two of you, but the President thought -- worked a crossword puzzle this afternoon and thought that the New York Times crossword puzzle for 46 down, four-letter word, the clue which was "meal for the humble?" was a particularly appropriate crossword entry this day, and said so.
Q Four letters -- crow?
MR. MCCURRY: Crow. (Laughter.)
Q What did he actually say when he said --
MR. MCCURRY: He kind of laughed -- he laughed in a bemused way and said, well, here's one that's appropriate for today.
Q Where was this?
MR. MCCURRY: It was on the plane.
Q How long did it take him to get it? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He works the New York Times crossword puzzle faster than I've ever seen anyone do a crossword puzzle in my life. It was a little bit scary.
Q Tuesday they're easy.
MR. MCCURRY: The President then settled back -- he's reading a novel, a thriller set at the Pentagon titled "The General," by Patrick A. Davis. He brought with him a lot of other interesting books, and since I may or may not have interesting details to spread out during the course of the coming days, I'll save them for later so we'll have something to talk about.
Tomorrow's his birthday. His plans are unsettled. He indicated to us -- just a little bit of color -- on the trip on the way up -- I am a Martha's Vineyard rookie, not having ever been here before, so that was an occasion for the President, the First Lady and Chelsea et al to entertain me with their favorite ideas of what to do in Martha's Vineyard. And there was a lot of bantering like that. I think it's clear that the Clintons individually and together as a family are very much looking forward to time together and a vacation here and some time away from Washington.
Q So they're able to laugh together, banter together, sit together and chat?
MR. MCCURRY: I would say that this is a family that's got some healing to do. I think that's a little too robust in its enthusiasm for the light-hearted.
Q You also said he was gratified with the response to his remarks. There have been a lot of pretty harsh things coming out of Congress -- and also you said he doesn't expect the polls to change. Does that indicated he does expect the polls to go up in his favor?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he's that worried about polls right now. I think he's worried about the reaction of his family, first and foremost, and working with them, as he indicated last night. And I think he's worried -- I think he's concentrated about getting back into the work that he wants to do as President. I think that he believes he will restore faith with the American people by demonstrating to them that he remains committed to doing the work that he was elected to do by them as President.
Q Do you think he's going to lay on some trips or public events --
MR. MCCURRY: On the question of trips, there certainly is some discussion at the White House about not just sitting around idly and not -- you know, getting back into a discussion about those issues that the President cares about deeply -- health care, status of education in America and some of the other things you've heard the President talk about since that State of the Union address back in January.
We even discussed the possibility of doing some things as early as the end of this week, because we want to get -- you know, naturally get back in a point where people see the President doing the things he was elected to do -- and that's hard to do when you're on vacation, to be candid.
I think the President and his family want some time together and I don't think they've -- they're going to unwind. It's clear that they're spending -- they've given us a lid until at least noon tomorrow, so check in again around noon tomorrow. But I suspect they'll probably spend all day together tomorrow. And if they do anything, the soonest they would do anything outside their little vacation area would be tomorrow evening, is my guess.
Q For the birthday?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. They'll probably go out and do something for his birthday.
Q -- maybe a party or something?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, a couple of his friends want to do something small and simple and that's what they might do. But they're going to reserve the right to make that decision tomorrow.
Q What kind of travel are you talking about for the rest of the -- for the end of the week?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not talking about any travel now. I think we had considered some ideas of things we would do, but we've decided not to do that.
Q So you're not going to travel?
Q So is the first time Vernon Jordan and the President have -- he was there to meet him, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Was that the first time they've --
MR. MCCURRY: They've seen each other on and off in the last seven months.
Q Are they going to play golf together, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect they will, but probably not -- I don't see that happening in the next several days.
Q So, Mike, just to understand -- the trips were scrubbed because -- I mean, you talked about doing it and then decided not to because --
MR. MCCURRY: They weren't ever put on, so there was nothing scrubbed. But we've talked about maybe doing some things as early as the end of the week.
Q Mike, what led you to say this is a family that has some healing to do?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's remarks last night on television.
Q I mean, anything that you've observed?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think it's self-evident.
Q Mike, why did you come?
MR. MCCURRY: I decided -- ironically, decided back in -- I've never been to Martha's Vineyard before and I had decided back at -- and I've also never been on vacation with the President before. So I decided earlier in the summer that it would be fun to do, this being my last tour of duty. (Laughter.)
Q Is it fun so far? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: And my sense of timing is always exquisite. (Laughter.)
Q Joe and Barry called, they said you could have it. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. McCurry, what does the President see as the more difficult task, restoring faith with the public or healing his family?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he considers it most important to him as a person to heal his family. But I think as a President he was elected to important responsibilities and the trust of the American people is first and foremost important to him.
Q Mike, some of the Democrats have been pretty harsh. You have one House Democrat on the Judiciary Committee who called on the President to resign today. How is he reacting to those non-supporters?
MR. MCCURRY: Who was that?
Q Paul McHale.
MR. MCCURRY: Where's he from?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, okay.
Q How do you deal with the Democrats who aren't supportive?
MR. MCCURRY: The same way we deal with Democrats who are supportive -- the President wants to do his job, do it well, demonstrate that he is committed to carrying out those things that he was elected by the American people twice to do.
Q Mike, how would you describe the President's mood? I mean, is it contrite, is it depressed, is it upbeat?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd say yesterday was a very difficult day for him. He has got -- he's looking forward to vacation. I think he was happy when the day was over yesterday. I think he was gratified that he could finally speak more candidly to the American people last night. But I think he wants to concentrate on enjoying his vacation, concentrate on his family and continue to do the work that he inevitably will have to do, even while he's here on vacation.
Q Mike, is he at all concerned or dismayed by the indications that his call for an end of all this doesn't seem to be going anywhere, that there are still grand juries meeting, that Congress seems to be still pretty jammed up? I mean, has he talked about that at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's a little early to make a summary judgment about "where this is going." We don't know that and we'll see where it goes.
Q How he feel about Mrs. Clinton's statement that came out before you all left?
MR. MCCURRY: He is humbly and deeply appreciative of the thoughts expressed by the First Lady's staff.
Q Mike, when you say heal his family, does that mean he has said to them, anything you want me to do, I will do it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President, himself, said that last night in his remarks.
Q Do you have any idea what he meant by that, though?
MR. MCCURRY: It's entirely private and entirely self-explanatory and I'm not going to discuss it.
Q Mike, are you among those with whom he met personally?
MR. MCCURRY: No, and I have yet to find anyone that he has met with personally over the weekend, as reported in the New York Times today. I don't deny it, but they weren't any of my colleagues who work at the White House.
The President did have some discussions individually with people that he wanted to talk to today. They can choose to identify themselves as they want to, but they're people who have been very public in their defense of him.
Q Were you?
MR. MCCURRY: I spent a large part of the afternoon with him.
Q Does he thing he'll be subpoenaed again, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't tell you what he thinks. I can tell you that his attorneys don't believe he will be.
Q Even though -- did he refuse to answer some questions last night?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that Mr. Kendall's statement made that clear last night.
Q There's was a lot of chatter about him not being contrite enough in his address last night.
MR. MCCURRY: The President gave last night exactly the address he wanted to give. I think a lot of people will have had commentary afterwards. A lot of people had advice beforehand. But the President gave the speech he wanted to give.
Q Had he been preparing it a long time?
MR. MCCURRY: I think in the sense that probably for some time he's been thinking about what he would eventually say to the American people, yes; in the sense of actually putting words to paper, I think he began working on it over the weekend.
Q There was some reporting that Mrs. Clinton actually helped write the speech. Do you know anything about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't confirm that. I can say that she certainly looked at what the President wrote and looked at what he had drafted and what others had tinkered with.
Q Was it at her instigation that the language about the investigation was --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to answer that, but I would say that I'm sure that she shares the sentiments that the President expressed last night on that subject.
Q Do you know which members of Congress he spoke with?
MR. MCCURRY: I know some of them, but not all of them -- and I'm not going to put out a partial list and some of them, it looks to me on the wires, have already been indicating who they are.
Q Can we expect that he will be less visible during this vacation than previous vacations?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I was talking to Knoller about this, who's my resident historian. He tends to, as he gets on vacation, they kind of just chill for the first several days and then they begin to do some stuff and get a little more active. And I suspect that will be the pattern here.
Q Mike, forgive me, but I'm on deadline. Have the trips gone away?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I'm saying that -- they were never really on, but we're not doing any road trip related to the President's agenda for the balance of the week.
Q But you may next --
MR. MCCURRY: We're reserving that right and we'll let you know if we make any decision.
Q What's your -- logistically, what's your briefing plan each day while we're here?
MR. MCCURRY: I think what I'll do is probably try to come in here around the regular hour every day and just check in.
Q You come at regular hours? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: At 1:00 p.m. -- which is really 1:30 p.m. (Laughter.) You know, in the neighborhood of 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. We'll let people know. There's no reason that -- I don't plan to be around here before noon or 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The President told us he definitely doesn't plan to do anything. As he indicated, he might want to take a jog or something like that. But I think that they do that inside the ranch there, right -- those of you who know the scene here.
Q Sometimes he jogs outside. I mean, he'll come down and jog along a trail that's near there.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll try to keep him inside.
Q This is kind of looking at next week, but do you know if Sandy Berger or anyone will come up to brief him on the Russia and Ireland trip, or was that what today was more about?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out, that we might see some foreign policy types coming up here just to touch base. There's been a lot going on in the world, a lot that is kind of actively being worked on right now. And while we've got a very minimal summer vacation staff here, we might see people come in and out from time to time.
Q Do you think they would come by and brief us, as well, before --
MR. MCCURRY: If I'm really hard up and dry for the day, yes. (Laughter.)
Q Who came with him, as far as minimal staff?
MR. MCCURRY: Me and Sosnik, and our National Security Counsel guy and --
Q Why are you guys all in suits?
MR. MCCURRY: The President asked Sosnik that question. Sosnik usually, as you know, is the most casual of all of us. And I kept saying today, what was the deal today and he blew me off.
Q Was it, like, look presidential and --
Q Do you have particular ground rules here?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. This was all on the record and I am Mike McCurry, the President's Press Secretary. (Laughter.) And we the briefings that we will do here -- I want to state this for the transcript still going -- that we will be briefing up here off camera, no sound, summer rules.
I will be available to electronic media if you really are desperate to get some kind of sound or picture to fulfill you, like we normally do. If there's some particular need, I can give you a quickie.
We really ask -- particularly this is directed to stills, and I know this is probably best directed to those who are not represented here as part of the system here -- but we really ask that you respect this family's privacy. That's a request from the staff. The President asked for that privacy last night. We would ask again for it on vacation sometimes. We've had some problems with inquiring minds who need to capture that extra image of the President. We would respectfully ask that you not do that on this vacation and I know the First Family would be grateful if you didn't.
Q Mike, because I actually didn't hear you. You said earlier that this is clearly a family that has some healing to do. Did you say it's hard for them to be lighthearted?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I gave a better answer than that and you can check the transcript.
Q Is he staying on his own with this family -- is he with a family or is he staying in the house on his own?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The three of them are together and I think one of their personal --
Q Yes, with the owners of the house?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. The owners, the Friedman's graciously vacate while they're there.
END 6:55 P.M. EDT