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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 29, 1998
                            PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:25 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: All right, ladies and gentlemen. Apologies to fans of Major League Baseball. Actually, apologies to Cleveland Indians fans. Are you a Redskins fan? Remember Nick Burns, who is now our Ambassador to Greece? He'd be so delighted, former State Department spokesman, my successor at the State Department was the hugest Boston Red Sox fan on the face of the planet.

Q He's happy at the moment.

MR. MCCURRY: For the time being, he's happy. We'll see how that holds up.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we're here at the White House -- we think. Let me do a readout first on -- I'd mentioned this morning that the President might drop in on the meeting that Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan was having with Sandy Berger. The President, in fact, invited them down to the Oval office and they met for almost a half an hour.

The meeting provided an opportunity for the President and Foreign Minister Tang to discuss the developments in U.S.-Chinese relations in the time since the President's state visit to the People's Republic. They, obviously, agreed that this relationship was important to the interests of both sides and to those issues where we hope to both build on the sense of cooperation that was developed by the President's visit and also to deal with some of the differences that clearly exist in that relationship.

The President emphasized the importance he attaches to close and good relations with China in sustaining progress that the two countries made during the state visit. And he made the following points: that first, the United States wants to cooperate with China in combating proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to combat terrorism, a subject that the President spoke to in his speech to the United Nations. They talked briefly about that speech. They also reviewed their common interest in dealing with environmental protection.

The United States supports China's accession to the World Trade Organization on commercially viable terms. The President reiterated that position. The President said that he hoped that China will provide protections on fundamental human rights. They discussed the importance of release of political prisoners. The President said that he hoped that, following up on something he had said to President Jiang Zemin, that he hoped that the People's Republic would agree to a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. And they also reviewed the regional economic situation in Asia, talked about the importance of stability and growth in the economies of Asia, and previewed the upcoming meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which the President will attend in Malaysia.

Q He will?

MR. MCCURRY: He will. And the recent events in Malaysia, given their importance, will be an occasion for the President to raise some of the concerns we have with respect to human rights there.

Q What about India -- is that trip still under review?

MR. MCCURRY: That trip has been under review and the President is in the process of contacting those governments and talking about some of the -- the importance he attaches to relations and how we see relations unfolding.

Q What about the trip?

Q Is the trip going, or not?

MR. MCCURRY: It's been widely reported that there's not likely going to be a trip. I don't have any reason to dispute that, but when we have any official announcement to that effect, I'll make it.

Q Did they discuss at all the devaluation of -- did he get any assurances from Foreign Minister Tang that --

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's safe to say that they talked about the importance of stability in those economies. Obviously, currency valuations play a role in that. But it would be more proper for the Treasury Department as our administration's leading agency to speak on currency matters to address that specifically.

Q What are the dates for Malaysia, and will he make any other stops?

MR. MCCURRY: The preannounced dates for APEC are not on the top of Colonel Crowley's tongue and not on my itinerary so -- (laughter) -- I'm not paying attention. November 17th and 18th, Deputy Press Secretary Barry Toiv reports. And I don't rule out additional stops in Asia while we're there.

Q Mike, Senate Majority Leader Lott said today that bad conduct alone by a President might be grounds for impeachment. Does the White House agree with that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, at the moment, grounds for impeachment is within the province of the House of Representatives, so specified by the U.S. Constitution. Should impeachment ever be brought against the President, the United States Senate would sit in judgment of those charges. So why one who would sit in judgment would render preemptively thoughts on what rises to an impeachable offense is a bit mystifying. But Senator Lott is entitled to raise those remarks. I'm sure there will be many in the House and the Senate who will disagree with him.

Q He didn't comment on the evidence. He simply talked about a perimeter.

MR. MCCURRY: Say again --

Q He didn't comment on the evidence. You're trying to make the case that a juror should not comment on the evidence.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that there -- certain there will be many in the House and the Senate who will disagree with him.

Q But do you think he should disqualify himself from voting in the Senate then, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: That's up to the Senate Majority Leader to address.

Q Assuming for a moment that Lott does, though, hold some sway with House Republicans and that they might be looking to him for cues as to what might constitute grounds for impeachment, does the White House agree or disagree that bad conduct alone might be sufficient?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not within the province of the Executive Branch, under our Constitution, to determine what is an impeachable offense. It's within the province of the House of Representatives.

Chairman Hyde yesterday indicated that a very high standard of law would apply, not political judgments based on what the leader of the other body had to say on the subject. So really you should direct your question to those like Chairman Hyde who are responsible for sitting in judgment of that very serious constitutional issue of what rises to an impeachable offense.

Q Mike, some on Capitol Hill, some Democrats on Capitol Hill have expressed concern about this independent television ad campaign that would supposedly benefit the President. Does the White House want to discourage that now?

MR. MCCURRY: What I'd rather say is what the White House like to encourage. What we want to encourage are efforts that will help elect Democratic candidates who share the President and the party's priorities. That's our focus. We hope that will be the focus of others who want to advance the President's agenda, the Democratic Party's agenda. We've got a great opportunity to do that on November 3rd.

Our focus, the President's focus has been on raising funds, assisting those candidates who are running in November, and we would hope that other like-minded people and supporters would do that. Obviously, we welcome support, but we think that support is best directed at advancing the causes that the President has been fighting for.

Q Surely staying in office is one of the President's personal priorities.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's highest priority at the moment is working on those things he was elected to do by the American people. That's what he's out fighting for every day, that's what he hopes this campaign will be about, that's what he hopes the candidates will address in the fall.

Q Is the White House trying to discourage that -- doing anything to try to discourage --

MR. MCCURRY: What we've made clear is that we understand the sentiments of those who want to be supportive, we understand why some would think that advertising would be helpful, but we've said, look, let's -- if you're going to spend scarce dollars, spend them first to help candidates, candidates who are the ballot in November. And it may be that some candidates are going to need to be able to respond through their own advertising to the kinds of advertising that Republican candidates have put forward that raise the President's situation on an issue, so it might be appropriate for them to have effective responses. That may be the kind of things that outside groups are thinking about trying to help with. But that really is there business. Our focus is, as I say, on the work that you see the President do day in and day out.

We've gone to the fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. The President worked hard to put together the arrangement by which we would unify the party's fundraising efforts in the fall and he's making good on the commitments he's made to our House and Senate candidates.

Q Has the White House view on this been made clear to the People for the American Way?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that we've certainly had discussions with them. I think they're aware of what we've been saying on this issue today and --

Q When was that that you had discussions with them?

MR. MCCURRY: I think they've had discussions -- I mean, we talk to them all the time, as I mentioned this morning. They're our friends, their the supporters -- they're among those who support the President. But I think the views that we made clear today we made clear to them privately as well.

Q Is there any thought here that this type of a campaign could actually hurt the President's chances for staying in office?

MR. MCCURRY: Since there is -- we don't know what this campaign is, it would be very hard to answer that.

Q The White House also talks to Carville every day. I know you didn't want to go down this road yesterday, but it's the same kind of situation -- we see Democrats being concerned. Have you made your feelings known to him?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he's well aware of our feelings. But, you know, you're well aware of how strong his feelings are on the matter and he's made it quite clear that he will not be muzzled by anybody.

Q Including the President?

Q This morning you suggested it might be counterproductive, or words to that effect.

MR. MCCURRY: I think the wrong kind of discussion of this issue could be counterproductive, yes.

Q Is what he's doing, by attacking Newt Gingrich, the wrong level of discussion?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, you'd have to -- there are others that would have to make that determination. I don't know that I think it's particularly helpful and I think there are others who share that opinion here. But there may be some people who think it's a good thing. I think everyone has got their own judgment on that.

Q What does the President --

MR. MCCURRY: The President understands those who want to be supportive and helpful of him. But he is going to address this matter as you've seen him address it. He believes it requires as a constitutional process the very careful, dignified approach that we've been bringing to the issue, and that's where we're going to be and that's where we'll remain.

Q Well, Mike, I mean, doesn't this sort of give the White House the best of both worlds? You can keep an arm's length from Carville and let him bay at the Republicans while the White House says, no, we don't want anything to do with this?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if I share the sentiment that that's the best of both worlds. I think it would be equally possible to have an analysis that said this is not particularly helpful.

Q Mike, on the fundraising, given the President's limited ability or time to go and raise funds for candidates, why did he spend a full day in Texas raising money and assisting Garry Mauro, who's 50 percentage points behind Bush in the poll?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, while we are helping -- we help candidates at all parts of the ballot, state and local races as well as federal races. Garry Mauro is someone who worked hard for this President both in 1992 and 1996. He's been among the most loyal of Democrats in Texas -- anywhere, for that matter -- and rendering support for this President and politics often is about loyalties.

Q Mike, there are some Democrats who are saying if the President doesn't personally tell Carville to stop or doesn't personally tell people who are launching ad campaigns that he would rather that money be spent somewhere else, that, in fact, he's going along with it and encouraging it.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, when we've been at the same place before on other occasions, those same hurdles have been set, the same hoops have been put out for us to jump through, and the President will address this matter as he sees fit.

Q Maybe I'm just a little dense, I didn't quite get what you were saying there.

MR. MCCURRY: This same issue has been raised in previous occasions -- what capacity do we have to affect the way Mr. Carville enlightens, entertains, informs his audiences. And our capacity for having that influence is not great, in my opinion, and he has said so himself. But others will have different judgments and that's the way it works.

Q So you think that if the President asked him to stop, he wouldn't stop?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that he said -- he has said on -- maybe not recently, but he has said in the past that he would do what he thinks is right regardless of what anyone at the White House, including the President, had to say to him. He has said that in the past, so I --

Q What about People For, where presumably the President would have a little more influence over them? They don't seem to be quite as obstinate --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, let's just see what they -- this is all very speculative. We had an article today that was very speculative about what they may or may not plan to do. Let's see what they actually do.

Q Mike, did the President get any security assurances from Yasser Arafat during the meeting today?

MR. MCCURRY: In his meeting with Chairman Arafat today, they talked about all of the elements of the Interim Agreement discussions that the parties will have in the region and that presumably will underpin the discussions they have directly here in Washington in the future. The security that the citizens of Israel need to feel as they move forward in the peace process is a very real concern, and I think Chairman Arafat understands that. But so are the concerns that he raises and he would like to see the Israeli side address, and those are serious concerns as well.

That said, most of those issues were explored in some depth yesterday in the meeting. So today the President and the Chairman focused on what is arguably a very important part of the future for the Palestinian people under the peace agreements that have been reached -- and that's the level of economic assistance that will be there for the people of the West Bank and the Gaza.

They talked at some length about the arrangements that will exist, and the United States can engage formally with the Palestinian Authority. And they went back to an idea that has been broached in the past of a U.S.-Palestinian Committee that could actually formally work on, in effect, bilateral relations. So they spent most of their time on those issues, and the President described it as a very encouraging meeting.

Q To follow up, Mike, did the security issue come up today?

MR. MCCURRY: As I just indicated, of course, it did, but the focus was on these others.

Q Was there any assurance from him either today or yesterday that he would crack down on preventing terror --

MR. MCCURRY: That is a central element of the discussions that are underway between the two parties. I'm not going to substantively get into where they are on various issues, but the security that Israel needs to feel as it moves forward is of paramount concern to Israel. I think the Chairman understands that. The Chairman has been addressing many issues related to security, and then there are specific issues imbedded in the discussion about the interim agreement that they have to address as well. I think it's best for us not to comment on those specific elements that are going to be part of the negotiation that the two sides have in coming weeks. But it was a fruitful and encouraging meeting.

Q Chairman Arafat said following the meeting that he has accepted the Israeli formula for the 13 percent now, which includes this 3 percent for the reserve. How significant is that? Because he actually then said, but, you know, the security arrangements still need to be hammered out. Is that going to be a stumbling block?

MR. MCCURRY: It is not surprising that publicly the Chairman would address certain aspects of the negotiation in a way that would help him as he negotiates. And we've seen that in this process often. And we're not going to comment about what one side or the other side says publicly as they go into this period, because they're going to be doing a lot of things and saying a lot of things that will enhance their own ability to bargain for those things that they care about.

Q Well, is that particular acceptance a step forward?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on specific elements of the discussions the parties themselves are going to have to have and resolve.

Q The congressional session is coming to an end. What is being done for IMF funding? I know the President said he wants it, but what is directly being done to get it?

MR. MCCURRY: What is directly being done is that as the work goes forward in the appropriations process we're making it quite clear that that is one of the highest priorities the White House has as we go into the final stages of this session. And it's hard to imagine that Congress will be going home anytime soon, until we get that and other items addressed to the President's satisfaction.

Q On the $80 billion tax cut, Congressman Rangle over the weekend suggested that Republicans should go with a more scaled down, $25 billion tax cut package. I was just wondering, rather than taking a confrontational approach to this, would the White House consider trying to work with Congress on getting something both of you can agree on?

MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. And I think that one good place that we will look is the ideas that Senator Daschle has been putting forward. He's got some ideas on tax relief that would meet the very stringent test that the President has put forward -- that, one, those tax cuts be targeted; two, that they be fully paid for. And if we understand correctly, even though we haven't seen the full proposal that Senator Daschle will make, we think he's got some ideas that will be very useful as Congress addresses the concept of tax relief in the closing days here.

Q Mike, you said it's hard to imagine that Congress will be going home anytime soon, until IMF and other issues are resolved. Should that be taken as a shutdown threat?

MR. MCCURRY: It should be taken as consistent with the veto threats that we have issued on a number of appropriations bills already.

Q There's an unveiling of an overhaul of policies in treating heroin addiction, and what are the anticipated results of the expansion of methadone treatment and what about the critics, like New York's Mayor?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think as some of you know, General McCaffrey is going to be in New York today, I believe at the American Methadone Treatment Association, putting out a concept paper that really talks about how we can move ahead with new strategies on heroin treatment at a time when we've seen in some geographic locations in the country an increase in hard core drug use and, specifically, heroin use.

I wouldn't say it's accurate to look at that as a proposal that responds to Mayor Giuliani, it's more a proposal or a concept that advances some of the things that our drug control strategy has addressed when it comes to hardcore drug use. I think it will be put forward thoughtfully as ideas that need to be in the public domain for discussion, but not as a firm administration proposal with budgetary impact at this point.

Q Has the President been calling the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee? And, if so, what has been the nature of the discussions?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I know that he's been reaching out to members of Congress, but whether specifically they've been members of the committee I just can't tell you. I know we've had contact with committee staff and committee members at a staff level, but I don't know if the President has been directly involved.

Q Would it be appropriate for him to be contacting members of the Judiciary Committee?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President is entitled to defend himself and to have others advance a defense, a vigorous defense, in the face of what some are alleging to be impeachable offenses. And you can imagine that the President and those representing the President would advance strongly the argument that nothing has occurred that rises to the level of impeachable offense.

Q How does that dovetail with the statements that you make often that all these items are in the domain of the House and the Judiciary Committee specifically and not for the White House to --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I just got asked about Senator Lott's comments earlier. Obviously, the consideration they will make of that doesn't occur in a vacuum.

Q Is the working assumption here that you won't be able to hold all Democrats when it comes to a vote next week on the inquiry --

MR. MCCURRY: The working assumption is that we will make a very vigorous case that there is not an impeachable offense and members will vote their conscience. That's what the working assumption is.

Q Back on the methadone -- you described it as a concept. Is it a concept that the President endorses, or is it --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are very supportive of the work that General McCaffrey is doing, but I think he is advancing this as ideas that he's putting in the public domain as we address treatment. Now, this has been carefully developed both through the Drug Control Office and through the Department of Health and Human Services, and we're largely supportive of it. It doesn't go forward as a specific administration proposal at this point because that's not what's required. What's required is a general discussion debated at the time that the General recommends to them.

Q Mike, when you say that the White House argument is that there's been no impeachment offense, are you saying that there is no perjury, or are you saying that perjury is not impeachable?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying exactly what our lawyers argued extensively in the presentation they made, and I think you know that in that long submission that they made you'll find the answer to that question, among others.

Q One more on the Palestinian entity -- if there is an entity after May and the final status talks haven't been achieved, what will it be called? Will the U.S. accept their reference to a Palestinian state?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, let's look more on the positive side and say that the parties yesterday gave every indication that they intend to abide by the agreements they've reached. They clearly are working hard consistent with the timing that is in the framework. And the final status matters like the Palestinian entity are to be addressed within that time frame prior to May 9th.

Q Well, let me just finish then. If they agreed to a Palestinian state, would the U.S. agree to it?

MR. MCCURRY: We are supporting the parties as they wrestle with these issues and, obviously, we're going to support the work they do consistent with their obligations under the Interim Agreement and with respect to the framework what they agree to as final status.

Q Is two weeks enough -- I mean, they'll be back in mid October; that's just a little over two weeks.

MR. MCCURRY: It could very well be enough, sure.

Q How about mid November?

MR. MCCURRY: Mid November? I think the goal would be to build on some of the momentum they had in the conversations they had over the weekend and here yesterday, and move as quickly as they can to address the Interim Agreement issues, particularly because the looming deadline of May presents itself and they've got very hard work ahead on what are arguably the hardest issues of all.

Q Mike, by the end of this week the Judiciary Committee is going to do another large document dump, some 60,000 pages. Is the White House concerned this will further damage the President's reputation?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know how 60,000 more pages at this point is going to make that much of a difference. (Laughter.)

Q Mike, the Assassination Review Board is worried that certain federal agencies have still not declassified material that's crucial to finding out who killed President Kennedy. Will the President give a nudge to some of these agencies to declassify more?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that. I know that they are scheduled to make a report to the President. I think we'll have to consider that in a timely way. I know that there has been an unprecedented declassification of materials and information with respect to the work that that review board has done. Looking on the brighter side, there has probably not been as much raw data and raw information available ever in the historical record of the 1963 assassination, but we'll assess what the performance of individual agencies are as we can once we get the report.

Q Will he be receiving that report officially tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: We don't know for sure yet. It's due sometime this week, I think -- right? Yes.

Q Mike, you indicated yesterday that the President was raising money for candidates, not for efforts like Mr. Carville's. In that, were you including the notion that Mr. Carville is receiving no money from either the White House or the DNC for his efforts?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that he's getting any -- I mean, he wouldn't be getting any money from the White House, period, as far as I understand. I'm not aware that he has any kind of consulting contract or any other contract with the DNC.

Do you know, Amy?

MS. WEISS: He doesn't.

MR. MCCURRY: He does not, to my knowledge.

Q Mike, has the President called Janet Reno to inquire about her health?

MR. MCCURRY: He did Sunday and had a nice conversation with her, and she was feeling well as Barry reported, I think, to the pool --

Q He did, too.

MR. MCCURRY: And he did, too. Have they talked since then? She's been back on the job since then, but they did have a good conversation Sunday.

Q Mike, you said that the White House would make the argument that there are no impeachable offenses, and the Democrats should vote their conscience. Does that mean the White House would then not sanction a Democratic effort to offer an alternative -- inquiry rules with more limited focus?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been lots of discussions of how to proceed and what is the best way to meet the constitutional obligations that the House has and to do so in a way that is consistent with the fact and fair to the President. And I'm sure there will be Democrats who will have thoughts and ideas on that as the debate unfolds next week.

Q So some sort of alternative might be acceptable as opposed to just no inquiry at all?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, let's just wait and see how that debate unfolds next week.

Q Mike, are the President's lawyers any closer to an agreement with Paula Jones' lawyers?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. You'd have to ask Mr. Bennett.

Q Mike, any plans for newly-elected German Chancellor Schroeder to visit President Clinton?

MR. MCCURRY: There's no plans at this point, but a strong desire. I think the President would like to begin as soon as possible a good working relationship with the Chancellor. The Bundestag will confirm the choice of the German people I believe some time late this month, late October, some time in October -- and the President I know would like as early as possible to have some opportunity to meet with him.

Q German media reports are suggesting that Schroeder would like to come even before he's formally confirmed. Is that possible?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we would be amenable to that, but, to my knowledge, we haven't worked out at a date.

Q Mike, do you have any idea when the President might go look at hurricane damage?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't. But if you gathered from Mr. Witt's presentation here earlier today, since the President has dispatched him to make an assessment, it wouldn't be conceivable that we could get a recommendation before the end of the week on whether or not the President would go, which would make the weekend more likely than anytime during the week if he was going to go.

But I think -- look, James Lee always goes and makes judgments based on what he senses the community needs, what the capacity is to support a presidential trip, whether or not that will interfere with other more important work that's underway to help communities. So we'll see what he has to say.

Q Saturday?

MR. MCCURRY: Saturday.

Q Does the economic event tomorrow have anything to do with it being the end of the fiscal year and the surplus and --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?

Q Does the economic event tomorrow have anything to do with it being the end of the fiscal year?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's easy to imagine that if we were going to get the first federal budget surplus in a generation, the first since 1969, the first since people were wearing paisley bell-bottom trousers and paisley ties -- (laughter) --

Q Did you wear those? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I'm thinking that because -- I hate to embarrass him, but my high school principal is in the room at the moment, so he remembers those days quite well. Yes, we would want to crow upon such an achievement.

Q What kind of grades did this guy get? (Laughter.)

Q Was he ever called to the Vice Principal's office? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: So I think he will want to take the occasion of the first federal budget surplus in a generation to talk about fiscal discipline, what it's meant to the economy and where we go from here.

Q Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, good. Thank you. Slow day at the White House. (Laughter.)

END 1:55 P.M. EDT