THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I just decided I'm going to let Lockhart brief today, he's ready to go.
Q No, no, no.
MR. MCCURRY: No?
Q No, one more time.
MR. MCCURRY: I've had a great time. I've been cleaning out my desk. So I'll start with this one. Question: Will the bankruptcy filing by the owners of the Houstonian Hotel affect the President's domicile and voting residence? Answer: No, we've been informed that the Houstonian partnership, one of the owners of the Houstonian Hotel in Houston, filed for reorganization -- blah, blah, blah.
I think that's from Marlin. Did he ever use this?
Q What kind of a note are you going to leave for Joe Lockhart?
MR. MCCURRY: A warm and affectionate one.
Q What's it going to say?
MR. MCCURRY: It will give Mr. Lockhart, not that he needs advice, the good piece of advice that I will leave him, which he will share with you if he so chooses. He doesn't need much advice.
The story of the day, news of the day. Let's go. Questions.
Q Well, I don't know if it's the story of the day, but when Mr. Clinton was a law professor in 1974, he said, referring to Richard Nixon, that lying to the American public was reason enough for the President to be impeached. What's the difference between then and now, and Nixon and him?
MR. MCCURRY: He said a number of things -- he said in 1974, his principal comments on the question of resignation and impeachment came after the long, fair, bipartisan process that the House Judiciary Committee conducted, when it was apparent that they were moving towards impeachment, and his recommendation was that the President resign and he did so.
Q But he was talking about lying to the American people, if I read his statement correctly.
MR. MCCURRY: We went through yesterday the enormous difference between Watergate and the issues that have been affecting this President in this time. And I don't need to remind you they involved the commission of crimes, the cover-up to those crimes, the misuse of federal agencies to subvert the investigations that were underway. It was a lot more than lying to the American people, Sam. You were here and you remember.
Q Are you going to miss these kind of questions?
MR. MCCURRY: Occasionally.
Q The President doesn't feel that he may hold back the dawn, hold back these hearings, does he? Does he feel that way? And also, is he concerned that he doesn't seem to have the total support of the Democrats on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has made a good argument, and the White House has made a good argument about why the issues that were referred by the independent counsel to the House do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. And that argument, we believe, is carrying the day. It's certainly carrying the day among those constitutional experts that have looked at the question and commented on it. And we hope that it will have some impact on the thinking of members of the House, particularly the Judiciary Committee, on both sides of the aisle, as they wrestle with what is an enormously important decision.
Now, we will not get everybody. We don't pretend that we will. But I think a lot of people, as they think about the argument, think about the gravity of impeachment, and think about what the framers meant when they talked about high crimes and misdemeanors, will want to think twice about that decision.
Q Does the President realistically think that there is a chance that he can avoid an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President believes as people look at the facts and think about them, think about the Constitution, think about the arguments that his lawyers have put forward on his behalf, that they will come to believe that this does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense and maybe does not deserve the kind of inquiry that the House Republicans are talking about, particularly one that is unrestricted and doesn't have any parameters as to scope.
Q So he thinks he will be able to avoid that?
MR. MCCURRY: We're realistic, but we are hoping that they will think carefully about the arguments that have been put forward.
Q I'd like to get on the record exactly what it is you think doesn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense, considering the fact that the President lied to the American people directly and through his subordinates over a period of seven or eight months and still maintains that he did not commit perjury, technically.
MR. MCCURRY: Bill, on the record you have the very good argument put forward by the President's attorneys in that first submission made the day the Starr referral went to the House in which the law of impeachment was carefully analyzed, in which the arguments were carefully put forward. What is the nature of impeachment and what the framers of our Constitution thought of as impeachable offenses is covered very clearly in that, and this ain't it.
Q Mike, you said yesterday you would find out whether or not particular White House officials had been offering things to Democrats to encourage them not to --
MR. MCCURRY: I've talked to, beginning with everyone who has been working on that effort of consulting with the Hill and to everyone I can think of to ask here, and they assure me that there's been no discussions of that nature.
Q Did you talk to the President about whether the Jonathan Pollard case came up with Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: I did, and he -- the reason I did want to check with him, and I'm glad I did, he indicated that as Prime Minister Netanyahu usually does, as former Prime Minister Rabin did, in private he did raise the issue. The President discussed it briefly and accepted the expression of concern made by the Prime Minister, but indicated that there was no change in our views on the matter and certainly no agreement.
Q So where does it stand now? He remains in prison and there is no plan anywhere for him to be released?
MR. MCCURRY: The President made a decision to deny Mr. Pollard's -- the most recent application for executive clemency that he put forward in July of 1996. That was after a very thorough review of the case, taking into account the views of senior law enforcement officials as well as the President's national security advisors. And there is no current pending application before the President for executive clemency. If there were to be one, it would go through the channel that is established at Justice.
Q Mike, has the President talked to any of the European leaders on the Kosovo issue? And second question -- since Mr. Holbrooke is the biggest expert we seem to have on the Balkans, what's happening with his nomination, because it hasn't been presented yet to the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: Take that first. Mr. Holbrooke's nomination we expect -- as soon as the current review that's underway is completed, we expect to be forwarding that to the Senate and we hope that that will clear the way for his confirmation. He has many, many attributes, but among them is the fact that he is expert in matters related to the Balkans because he was Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and because he spearheaded the negotiations in Dayton that resulted in the Dayton Peace Accords. And so, having his expertise at a time we are wrestling with what is, again, a difficult situation in the Balkans would be most welcome.
Now, as the President's conversations -- when he had his opportunity to talk to Chancellor Kohl yesterday morning, in addition to the discussion they had, obviously, about the election, they did talk about Kosovo. The President thanked Chancellor Kohl for the actions by the German Cabinet yesterday. And I would not rule out that he would have further conversations. He certainly has had conversations about Kosovo with a number of leaders, including some that he saw in New York while we were up there for the U.N. General Assembly session. And it remains something that he is actively engaged with, particularly at a time when his national security advisors are beginning to explain to Congress the steps that NATO has been taking, that the U.N. has been taking, to deal with the intransigence of the government in Belgrade.
Q Mike, is military action there imminent? Is action imminent?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what has now occurred today is that a formal request for forces, for air forces, has been issued by NATO, following the deliberations of the North Atlantic Council. We certainly will respond to that request. We are actively working now to consult with Congress about the consequences of a refusal by Mr. Milosevic to comply with the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1199. And the stipulations there, the requirements for him are well known, but we are going to have to act to, one, ensure that the security forces withdraw from Kosovo, as they have now been required to do; two, to avert what clearly will be a humanitarian disaster this winter in Kosovo if we cannot return those Albanians who have been displaced to their residence; and three, we are going to work to ensure that there is some negotiated political settlement that respects the right of the Kosovar Albanians to have some measure of self-government.
Q We are going to have to act, you say? I mean, in other words, you believe the decision has been made?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been a decision taken by the Security Council to enforce its will, and NATO has now taken those steps necessary to assure that the diplomatic efforts can be, if necessary, backed by force.
Q At this point, though, Mike, have you seen anything that would avert military action?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been anecdotal reports of some movements by security forces under the direction, presumably, of the authorities in Belgrade. We'll just have to see how that develops.
Q And is today's briefing to the Senate in any way requesting their assent in whatever it is the United States does?
MR. MCCURRY: It has. Because of the nature of the problem in Bosnia, because we have wrestled with this for years now -- the pattern of consultation with respect to anything in the Balkans, whether it's the deployment we have ongoing in Bosnia, whether it's the situation now in Kosovo, whether it's the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where we continue to monitor the developments -- all of those things we consult closely with the leadership on the Hill, with the foreign policy-Armed Forces committees. And in this case, we are making it available to a wider universe of people in the Senate who might be interested.
Q Mike, could you just clarify something? Earlier today, you said that the activation request has not been made. Now you say there's been a formal request for air forces --
MR. MCCURRY: It was made during the day, in between the gaggle this morning and now. It's been issued --
Q -- an activation request, and that's what you're talking about --
Q We're talking about air power alone.
MR. MCCURRY: Activation request for air resources, as it was described today in Brussels.
Q Is there a deadline, a specific deadline for Milosevic to act by to avoid -- or has that already been passed?
MR. MCCURRY: In the Security Council resolution, there has not. But it's clearly an urgent matter in which urgent action needs to be taken because of the humanitarian situation. People are up in the mountains, winter is about to begin, and the likelihood that they are going to freeze or starve to death is pretty clear.
Q So he must act before Kofi Annan gives his report next week?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll be very interested in the report the Secretary General makes to the Security Council. We don't expect at this moment that it's going to indicate full compliance with the terms of the Security Council resolution, but we will wait to see that report. We expect, in any event, because the British Chair of the Security Council has called an emergency meeting of the Security Council, that there will be some statement, public statement by the Security Council as to the current situation, also as to the atrocities we've witnessed just in the last few days.
Q Does the United Nations, or does anybody else, need to take any further action to authorize the use of force?
MR. MCCURRY: We have sufficient authority to act in place now. The Security Council remains seized of the matter. Obviously, in our country we would welcome any expression of support from the Congress.
Q Mike, a new report shows that the Civil Rights unit of the Ag Department has not done anything --
MR. MCCURRY: Can you hold off for a second? That's a good question; we'll come back to it. Any more on Kosovo?
Q Why did the President and his advisors make an assessment of the possibility that, one, NATO use of force won't be sufficient -- and the old question always is, is there a possibility that we will be dragged into an open-ended conflict?
MR. MCCURRY: Sam, that's a good question, and the President's military planners, working with the counterpart military planners from other NATO countries, have to examine that possibility. And it is certainly true that you cannot employ air power alone without thinking of the consequences of lack of success. But that will have to be, and has been, addressed.
There is some reasonable probability you can achieve the goals that we're after here in the kind of planning that's been done, because there is some track record now in dealing with Milosevic, in dealing with the Belgrade authorities. We've got the experience of the summer of 1995, and we know the way things work. So we have been in that situation before and seen the pattern -- his pattern of behavior when he responds to diplomacy backed by force.
But, obviously, we will hope that the likelihood of a peaceful outcome, even though we have to be somewhat skeptical at this point, we hope that that will hold the day and will sway Milosevic to comply with the terms of the resolution.
Q A follow-up, if I may. Then is the President prepared to see it through? I mean, once you embark on this course, if in fact you have to keep going, is he prepared to keep going?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is well aware that once the United States of America and the most important military alliance on Earth commit a force to compel an outcome that we have to see it through.
Q Well, knowing what makes him act, how come you waited so long?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been in the months that we've been dealing with Milosevic, positive public pronouncements. He has from time to time done things to back up what he's indicated and promised the world community he would do. There have been at times some diminution of fighting. There have been times, frankly, when the Kosovar Albanians and their military resources have held court and won the day -- on the battlefield. So there have been different moments in this. But in recent weeks the commitment of resources by the Serbs has been overwhelming, it's been indiscriminate and the result has been the death of thousands of civilians. And the Security Council has dealt with this now very forcefully and clearly, and NATO is prepared to back up the will of the international community.
Q Mike, this morning you said that the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Kosovo, and I'm wanting to know the reaction of Russia now to this --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Russia has been -- Russia voted for Resolution 1199, but the remain skeptical about the utility of force in this situation. They believe that a diplomatic, peaceful resolution is preferred, and they, of course, in the past have used their diplomatic efforts to try to achieve that kind of outcome. I doubt their views have changed significantly, but I think what's changed now is they understand that Milosevic has remained intransigent in the face of world opinion, as expressed by the Security Council. And I think, they would have to agree with the argument that it's time for him to understand the consequences as well.
Q Mike, if the U.S. is going to expand it's involvement in the region, how quickly can an increase in the military budget, U.S. military budget be passed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, when the United States is forced to act militarily, it's not a question of budget resources. We take the action we need to take.
Q But yesterday -- I think the other day the military leaders said that they're stretched too thin because of all these operations.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they also indicated the reasons why we need the emergency supplemental requests that's been made. They understand that when they are given the mission and undertake the mission, they have to accomplish it. But the arguments about readiness and the budgetary resources for readiness go well beyond the question of the resources needed for emergency purposes such as the deployment in Bosnia or any anticipated action elsewhere in the Balkans.
Q Might this mean the possibility of more U.S. troops in the region?
MR. MCCURRY: The troops is not the issue at this point. It's a question of what air resources would be available.
Q Mike, you're saying the source of the authority is the Security Council, and the source of the power to enforce it is NATO?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying that there is sufficient authority in place by the decisions taken not only at the United Nations, but also by the North Atlantic Council for the United States to act in concert with its allies if it needs to.
Q Mike, in perhaps your last Japan question-answer -- (laughter) -- could you confirm that the President will be going to Japan in connection with his APEC trip in November?
MR. MCCURRY: I've got a lot of gobblygook here that let's me come close to it, but it doesn't really let me do it -- right? Is that basically it? Don't do it. (Laughter.)
Q Well, have you seen reports that he will be going to Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: I've seen those news reports. (Laughter.) See, even on my last day, they don't trust me. (Laughter.) Thank you, Colonel Crowley. Earlier this week, the President has decided to postpone his --
Q Just give us the dates.
MR. MCCURRY: That's what I can't give you. Earlier this week, the President decided to postpone his travel to India and Pakistan, as you know. As a result, we're exploring other destinations in the region, as you might expect. Going all the way to Malaysia is a long trip. You'd want to do some other things while you're there. The President desires to make stops in Japan and Korea. The governments of Japan and Korea are receptive to hosting the President following the APEC meeting.
Q In that order, or the other order?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily in that order. Since all three leaders will be in Malaysia, there are scheduling issues that need to be addressed. If details can be working out, these stops would occur after the APEC meeting, which is November 17th to 18th. We'll have more to say on this -- actually, Mr. Lockhart will have more to say on it -- (laughter) -- once we have finished our planning with the governments of Korea and Japan. And we will make a formal statement with proper dates properly announced in due course.
Thank you, Colonel.
Q Mike, could we go back to Kosovo for a minute? You said what you welcome now are expressions of support from Congress. Do you have some reason or concern that that is not going to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there is very strong support for the work we must do there. I think many of you heard Senator Dole the other day suggest even we should have acted sooner. I think that sentiment is shared by many members of the Senate. I saw Senator Lott's spokesman indicate that they concur in the views expressed by Senator Dole. There are those that believe, however, that the U.S. role in Europe should not include the use of military force, particularly with respect to the Balkans. And we have respectfully disagreed with those voices in the Senate for sometime now, but they are there and they will no doubt express themselves in the days ahead.
Q You're not seeking a formal resolution --
MR. MCCURRY: I said that we would welcome an expression of support.
Q -- people on the ground in Bosnia, obviously. Is there any heightened concern about their safety should we use air power?
MR. MCCURRY: Any concern about the safety of American citizens, whether they're U.S. military or U.S. civilian employees of our government or any American citizen, would be expressed by the State Department. And they would advise American citizens if there is concern about travel in Former Yugoslavia or Bosnia-Herzegovina or elsewhere. And have they done that yet?
Q I was talking more about the NATO peacekeeping troops in Bosnia, that they might be subject to revenge attacks or something like that.
MR. MCCURRY: They are in an environment where they are well equipped to protect themselves and to carry out the mission that they're undertaking. I have not heard about any immediate concern about their safety because they are doing the job -- in fact, that's one of the reasons -- one of the things we have at stake in the Balkans is the Bosnia peace process itself, which is working. It would be enormously destabilizing to see this mass refugee exodus from Kosovo, which would impact Albania, which would impact the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which could have a destabilizing effect throughout all the Balkans. And one of the things we don't want to see happen here is the situation get out of control that would jeopardize the very fragile peace that exists now in Bosnia. We stopped the war there. We won a peace. We're working to make that peace effective. And we don't want to go backwards.
Q At the Pentagon they say we can't wait much longer, and if Milosevic doesn't back off, he faces a punishing military attack.
MR. MCCURRY: Ken Bacon always was better at this than I was. (Laughter.)
Q Is that why McWethy gets on and I don't? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: That's it. You get better sound bites. Bacon will give you a better sound bite. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, when the President was in this briefing last June 23rd -- or actually, it was July 23rd -- and announced that you were leaving and Joe Lockhart was going to take over, he said, "I'll have more to say about Joe and about Mike this fall when we actually make the change." My question is, could we expect a visitation here from the President and an opportunity to ask him some other questions? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: That would be up to Mr. Lockhart on Monday when the change occurs.
Q Mike, President Carter was the last U.S. President to visit India 20 years ago and, of course, it's well known in the world that the U.S. is the most powerful and the richest democracy and India is the largest. But as far as China and India are concerned, why is the U.S. treating differently, because President Clinton decided to go to China earlier than later, and now he has postponed his trip to India? But he is not going to -- his wife who said that he is going to bring him to India --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I indicated yesterday that the President has been anxious for most of the time he's been President of the United States to go to South Asia, to visit India, to visit Pakistan. He has enormous personal interest in the subcontinent, and his wife and daughter have traveled there and have told him many things about it, which has only increased his interest in that. And we recognize that India is the most populated democracy on Earth, Pakistan is key to the security interests that we have in the region, that a close working relationship with both countries is vital. Those two countries jeopardized their working relationship with the United States by their decision to conduct nuclear tests. And we have been dealing with the fall-out, so to speak, of that decision ever since.
I indicated to you yesterday we hope that the work that we've done with both governments, we hope the work the two governments are doing together by exchanging visits between their foreign secretaries will lead us to a situation where we can resume the kind of constructive working relationship we want to have with both countries.
Q But Mike, China is a nuclear power. China has been transferring nuclear high technology to Pakistan, Iran, and other nations and still --
MR. MCCURRY: And is also a member of the U.N. Security Council, and we have enormous interests across the broad sweep of that bilateral relationship that we conduct with them. We've been able to effectively press our concerns -- whether it's in the security area, the economic area, our political interests that we share in the region -- by conducting the kind of high level dialogue we have been, even though we have differences. We hope to have that kind of working relationship with the government of India.
Q Mike, Russia is one of the five core members of the U.N. Security Council. And you said, other countries are also skeptical about the use of force. Speaking of China, how does China fit into the equation? Which way is it turning?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't speak for the government of China. I think that they have indicated through their statement of vote on the Security Council resolution we've been discussing their views on the situation in Kosovo. In general, they have been as reluctant as other governments to consider additional measures when it comes to matters that are a question of internal policy. And the statements from their government reflect that concern, but it's really best for members of their government to speak on their behalf.
Q Mike, Pakistan has said that it would consider signing the test ban treaty if the sanctions are lifted. Next weekend, I understand that there's a bill that would waive some of those sanctions. Do you anticipate being able to move on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that the sanctions in question are the ones that the government of Pakistan had in mind. The sanctions waiver legislation pending in our Congress is more narrowly focused. It deals with the agricultural sanctions that were automatically imposed after the nuclear test by India and Pakistan. I believe there would be some relief or the President would be given some flexibility under those sanctions. I believe the ones the two governments are concerned about are economic sanctions and prohibitions on certain types of military exchanges. And I'm not aware of any proposal in our Congress to change those sanctions.
Q Are you conditioning a visit on the signing by both India and Pakistan on the --
MR. MCCURRY: We have had good, constructive presentations to both governments. I think that they know the type of progress we want to see in our discussions related to proliferation issues, to the nuclear programs that both countries are now operating in. I think both countries are well aware of our concerns could be addressed sufficient for the President to again consider a proposed visit.
Q I was told that President Clinton's plan to replace Ambassador Holbrooke as a special envoy for Cyprus will be soon. Do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that is true. Colonel Crowley reminds me that indicated at the time we announced the intent to nominate Ambassador Holbrooke to the U.N. post that we would, naturally, want to fill out that Cyprus portfolio with another envoy. Of course, he will still be in a position to lend his -- that's another area where his considerable expertise will be available to us. But the situation in Cyprus has required and usually has had someone who is in a position of being a more active envoy day in and day out.
Oh, yes, and Ambassador Miller is still very actively engaged and been reporting to the White House regularly.
Q What are you going to miss the most about your job?
Q Mike, in answer to an earlier question about whether there has been any horse trading going on in relation to these impeachment votes you said that no discussions of that nature have taken place. Does that apply to both fundraising help and concessions on legislation -- does that also mean that no such discussions will take place, that there's been some sort of decision made that that would be improper?
MR. MCCURRY: The people that I spoke to about this issue have indicated to me that they make the arguments about impeachment and the utility of an impeachment inquiry on the merits. Now, the President -- I have to be careful and stipulate to you the President is an active fundraiser on behalf of his party. That was in place long before the question of an impeachment inquiry arose. He's going to be vigorously present throughout the country raising funds for Democratic candidates, and I've heard of no plans to change any of those things that are already scheduled. He's been booked and will be booked for that kind of work on behalf of the party.
Q Are you expecting a higher proportion of Democrats to vote against an inquiry than voted to release the materials?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to predict to you how members will vote. I think it's going to be a difficult issue for all members of the House one way or another, Republican or Democrat. And I think what we're trying to do is put forward the most powerful and persuasive argument we can put forward that will convince members of the House that an inquiry is not warranted.
Q When the referral first went to Congress, White House officials and lawyers roundly criticized Starr for not including Whitewater and other matters that he's been investigating. So if you want it in the referral, why wouldn't you want it in the inquiry?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we didn't -- I don't think anyone ever suggested here we wanted those matters referred to the House for possible impeachment inquiry. We wanted a clean bill of health from Ken Starr. He's investigated those matters for four years now with his predecessor; they've cost the U.S. taxpayer $40 million; and it's time, if he has nothing to report to the Congress on those other matters, for him to exonerate the President in Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate. It's time for him to bring those issues to a conclusion.
Q So why shouldn't they be included in the scope of any inquiry if there, in fact, are things --
MR. MCCURRY: Because there is absolutely no evidence that there's anything that approaches an impeachment offense in any of those categories. In fact, to the contrary; it looks like there may be reason to believe that Mr. Starr could give the President what amounts to a clean bill of health on those issues.
Q Mike, for the record, what are you going to do --
MR. MCCURRY: Let's do that at the end.
Q Getting back to the Ag Department, apparently, the report shows that the office is in disarray and hasn't done anything significant to help black farmers. What's the White House response?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're not going to respond directly because Secretary Glickman has addressed the issue today. Obviously, the White House has received a copy of the Inspector General's report on the performance of the Office of Civil Rights at the Ag Department and they have found that there is a need for improvement. We certainly don't dispute that, but we would refer you to Secretary Glickman, who has outlined a series of steps that he is going to take today to address that. And I note that he has been vigorous in addressing questions about how the Department has dealt with issues of racial discrimination. He has put in place a new set of procedures. He, in fact, asked the Inspector General to report to him directly, periodically, on the performance of the various elements in the Department, and the White House is confident that the Secretary will continue to address it with that kind of urgency.
Q Is the President kind of upset about this? Because when he met with the black farmers he said that he was definitely going to take a hands-on approach with this and he was going to monitor this.
MR. MCCURRY: And he is, and we have been monitoring it and we have been talking directly with Secretary Glickman to understand exactly how he intends to proceed. And the President is confident that Secretary Glickman is addressing the issue vigorously and effectively.
Q What legislation do you have in the house that the President is able to sign? And what do you see on the horizon heading this way that he intends to sign? Can you itemize some of these things?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you mean -- well, right now pending are all the appropriations bills. What we want to see --
Q Do you have anything right now that -- is there anything in-house that he can sign? What do you expect?
MR. MCCURRY: There hasn't been anything passed that is pending at the -- we've waited -- and appropriations bills that are in conference that we think are near completion. Remember, we're at the point where, as the Congress pulls all-nighters to finish their work before they go home for the year, they are going to thrash a lot of these things out in the context of the appropriations bills they send here to fund the government for the next fiscal year. That's where a lot of the language is going to be developed. That's where we think they could address things like education, which the President will be addressing today, some of the other priorities that the President has. And they've left, as usual, to the very last minute an enormous amount of work to do. But we'll be working through those bills, and the President will be considering each and every one of them.
Q Mike, the President supports about a $14 billion emergency supplemental bill. And whatever the -- that's about a quarter of what the surplus was for this year. Whatever the merits of individual items in that, is he concerned that it's going to undermine, by the sheer amount of it, his save Social Security first message? And isn't he going to establish a precedent for raiding the surplus with emergency funding bills?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think we have been very careful to follow exactly the rules of the 1990 Budget Act that have been followed by President Bush, past Congresses, and stipulating exactly those categories that do fall under the definition of emergency supplemental funding according to the Budget Act. We've been very careful making that argument, segmenting out the budget requests that are clearly emergency from those that are program activity that have longer-duration effects, and we stand by the submissions that we've made to the Congress.
Q Just to follow up, I'm sorry, what if the tax cut is attached to that? Would the President, therefore, have to veto --
MR. MCCURRY: Changing tax policy is not an emergency supplemental appropriation. It's making changes -- structural changes in the tax code for the long-term. It's not the same thing as one-time expenses that fall under the rules of the 1990 Budget Act.
Q Mike, as the Judiciary Committee apparently gets ready to release more documents, transcripts, tapes and so forth, tomorrow, what does the White House see as the cumulative effect on the case that you're trying to make of the release of these documents? And what effect do you think from what you know about what's in tomorrow's package, what effect do you think it will have?
MR. MCCURRY: Peter, we've only heard anecdotally about what's in that. It's a lot of transcripts and a lot of information. Some of it -- presumably the more interesting stuff has been leaked out one way or another already. It probably just adds to some sense that the American public has that it's time to get over this matter and move on. It has -- it's an awful lot of documentation, and I'm sure there will be various kinds of nuggets in there. And as I told you the other day, I imagine some will be helpful to the President's case, some probably won't be, and the net effect will be fratricide and all the stories will knock each other out and it will become white noise in the background -- as much of this has been for these months.
Q Ralph Nader today called on --
MR. MCCURRY: Ralph Nader.
Q Yes, he called on Congress to pass legislation that would create a national advisory referendum in November, and it would be a ballot issue, and it would ask, should President Clinton remain in office. He says this would bring out a huge turnout, reverse the decline in voter turnout over recent years. Is that a good or bad --
MR. MCCURRY: I think, for good reason, the framers of our Constitution put the process of negating the results of election in the careful hands of the House of Representatives under the very strict rules that govern impeachment proceedings. We should be very careful about overruling the decision we as Americans make every four years when we elect a President. And I think that that's exactly why the process that we're looking at now has to be done carefully and fairly and with some sense of history. And I don't know that plebiscites is the way in which we conduct ourselves as a country, and that's not the way the Constitution was written.
Q Since the framers didn't put it into the Constitution, would you explain, as part of your valedictory, why you felt that you could afford to remain ignorant of something concerning the President, and also afford to refrain from taking questions on it, and do you now regret it?
MR. MCCURRY: Of the millions of pieces of information that I stuffed into this pathetic brain of mine every day, I segmented out on matters related to Monica Lewinsky, questions that would jeopardize the President's attorney-client privilege if I had direct knowledge of actions by the President.
You asked me questions about the President's actions. If I got those answers from him, he would have, in effect, forfeited his attorney-client privilege, and he would have been an open sitting duck for Ken Starr because he have subpoenaed me -- and I wasn't interested in being subpoenaed. He certainly could have subpoenaed the President, saying that there is now no attorney-client privilege that exists because you have vitiated it by talking publicly or authorizing your press spokesman to speak publicly on these matters. And it would have undermined the right that the President of the United States has as any citizen would have to construct a legal defense.
And I am not at all ashamed of that decision. I think it's the right one in the interest of the President, the presidency, and it was my own personal self-interest.
Q How were you able to predict so long ago that the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship would turn out -- could turn out to be very complicated, without a simple, innocent explanation?
MR. MCCURRY: Clairvoyance. (Laughter.)
Okay, what else?
Q Mike, since this is your last day in the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: No, any of substance.
Q There were some reports about a meeting between a Democrat member of the House of Representatives and the Iraqi Prime Minister in New York --- and that this Congressman intended to visit Baghdad for two reasons: first, to examine the plight of the Iraqi people under the sanctions; and secondly, to examine the issue of the Kuwaiti detainees. Now, if this is true, how does the White House view a visit by a congressman to Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of the visit that you're discussing. A member of Congress is free to pursue whatever contacts they deem appropriate. Our contacts, diplomatic contacts with respect to Iraq are very carefully conducted and they are consistent with the work we've done in furtherance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Q The visit of the congressman to Iraq --
MR. MCCURRY: That's up to the individual member of Congress, and we take no issue of it. I'm not even familiar with the visit that you're referring to.
Q Mike, is it the White House's understanding that Libya is reluctant to turn over the Pan Am 103 suspects over incarceration in Scotland? And if so, what are the next steps that the White House is prepared to do?
MR. MCCURRY: It's our understanding that they have not come forward and answered the terms set forth by the United States and Great Britain with respect to our willingness to see the two suspects delivered to a separate venue for trial under Scottish law by a Scottish judge. And that was an unambiguous, but non-negotiable offer. We are waiting for some indication from the government of Libya that they're interested. Failing to take up that offer, they remain, in effect, sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, and we have no desire to see those sanctions lifted.
Q In answer to Bill's question about attorney-client privilege --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back to that.
Q Let me just follow it up.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back and do that.
Q Mike, this morning you spoke of Mr. Perot in the gaggle. Can we get you on record what you think of Mr. Perot's statement?
MR. MCCURRY: I was asked about Mr. Perot earlier and I said that some of his recent behavior and statements indicate the good judgment the American people had when they failed to elect him President of the United States.
Q On Monday, finance ministers and Central Bank governors are coming to Washington for a meeting that the President asked for in New York recently. Is he going to address that meeting at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say --
Q The finance minister of the G-22 and Central Bank governors --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Is he going to speak to that meeting at all and what does he expect to come out of it?
MR. MCCURRY: It's happening here in Washington, Tuesday. When we do the week ahead tomorrow, you'll probably see that on Tuesday that we will have some public remarks by the President to the ministers -- or on the occasion of the ministers visit here? He's talking about some remarks that would be appropriate at the time of the G-22 ministers are here. Executive Committee of the World Bank, Barry seems to think. I haven't been thinking about the President's schedule next week all that much. (Laughter.)
Q Does the President still hope to settle the Paula Jones case?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's attorney has addressed that. I think he said something to the effect that all representatives in litigation have some obligation to try to amicably resolve the terms of the litigation, or something like that. But Mr. Bennett can --
Q Do you think this could be near?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, and I think Mr. Bennett would be the only one that could tell you. And my guess is, if there is a negotiation underway, he probably won't.
Q Given that the President has said he would veto the Republican tax cut package and the Republicans don't seem to be jumping on the bandwagon for the Daschle package, is a tax cut dead this year and just simply an issue to be brought to the voters in November?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it wouldn't be dead if the Republicans wanted to consider as a useful alternative the sort of targeted, smart, paid-for, fiscally prudent tax relief that Senator Daschle is putting forward. Democrats are interested in tax relief, too. This President is interested in tax relief. We've included in the our own budget proposals. We've got ways that we can do that and strengthen the performance of our economy, consistent with fiscal discipline, consistent with the principle of protecting Social Security first. And if the Republican Congress is interested in tax relief, they certainly will take up Senator Daschle's ideas, because they know that the House-passed tax cut is not going anywhere because they can't get it through their own Republican-led Senate.
Q Two of the items on the supplemental are spending for the year 2000 problem and military readiness. These issues have been known about for some time. How can they possibly be classified as emergency spending?
MR. MCCURRY: Because -- well, ask our folks at OMB, but under the terms of that act, one-time spending that's not for discretionary spending for programs that have no sunset or exist over a number of years or changes in tax policy, one-time expenditures for emergency purposes are deemed emergency under the act. They've been used that way in previous budgets. Congress has approved previous emergency supplemental requests that fall under the same rules. But the exact nature of how they write the rules, OMB can help you.
Q In addition to the attorney-client problem that you outlined in answer to Bill's question, you were also a number of times straightforward enough, though, to say to us that one reason you didn't find out information was that, if you didn't know things, you wouldn't be in the position of where you might have to say things that would turn out not to be true.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. Yes, absolutely.
Q And you even at one point said self-preservation was one of the reasons why you didn't find out.
MR. MCCURRY: The one thing I was determined, when that story broke back in January, was to never come here and do what some of my predecessors, unfortunately, did, which was to lie to you and mislead you. And sometimes not knowing the answer, even though that puts you in a tough position, too, is better than consciously misleading people.
I know that at times I came up short. I know at times that I didn't have the right information. Frankly, the President misled me, too, so I came here and misled you on occasion. And that was grievously wrong of him, but he's acknowledged that.
But did I ever knowingly come here and send you folks in the wrong direction? I did not. I'm confident of that. And did I make sure that I was never in a position -- was I in a position sometimes when I couldn't have all the information I otherwise would have? Yes, that happened. But, look, over five and a half years, the portion -- the number of times I've had or the percentage of times I've had I think was pretty small, if you look at the expanse and range of things that we've talked about here and the time that I have been here.
Q Why do you think the President lied to you? And also, you have this kind of "free at last" sense today, and I wondered --
MR. MCCURRY: Free at last?
Q -- what you are going to miss the most about --
MR. MCCURRY: Does it show? (Laughter.)
Q Yes, it does.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I mean the President has addressed the first question himself. I can't add to what he has said already on it. And I don't know the other stuff.
Q What are you going to miss the most about being the spokesperson?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll miss the give-and-take here in the briefing room. I enjoy this -- it's kind of fun.
Q Do you have any words for the press? I mean, we give you an opportunity. We lay it on you. Do you have any words for us?
MR. MCCURRY: I am much too close to the combat that we've enjoyed here to make any profound comments. And I think that over time, I think I will reflect on the experiences I've had, but, look, this is a contentious environment, and it is, by design, an adversarial relationship. But what I've tried to do is make it a professional relationship and one in which we can still have some measure of amicability in the proceedings. And I think that's --
Q Which is exactly why I want to ask you this question. Who does a press secretary work for? Does he work for the press? Does he work for the President?
MR. MCCURRY: The press secretary of the United States works for the people who pay him, the people of the United States of America. That's where your first and only obligation is -- it's to the truth and at helping the American people.
Now, you can do that by doing a good job for your boss. And when I started here in January 1995, I said I was going to work for him, I was going to work for all of you by being your advocate here in the White House, internally -- and by the way, Mr. Lockhart is going to be your most aggressive proponent inside the White House, so when he argues with you occasionally, tolerate him, because he is -- the press secretary has to be your employee as well.
So you work for both sides of this equation. I like to tell people, my office is perfectly situated as a geographic metaphor here in the White House -- 50 feet in one direction is the Oval Office, and 50 feet away is here where we are dealing with you. And that's the role of the Press Secretary, to be equi-distant between two combatants in this adversarial relationship.
Q Well, you've done a good job, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks, sweets. (Laughter.)
Q Under the circumstances.
MR. MCCURRY: Helen and I always had a thing for each other. (Laughter.)
This is the 539th time that I've stood here and briefed, and then probably another 250 times beyond that in places far-flung, around and about. And it has been fun. The other thing I said when I started was I wanted to have some fun doing it, and some days have been less fun than other days, but on balance it's always been an honor to work here. And I have been blessed by, I think arguably, one of the finest White House press staffs that has ever been assembled. And Lori Anderson, who is the single best person you could ever have taken care of your real business, is very sweet. So I have been very lucky to have served here.
Q You leave with your honor intact.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you. It's a good way to end.
Q And what are your plans, Mike?
Q What's next?
MR. MCCURRY: Play a little golf, make a little money, do a lot of Little League coaching and volunteering in my schools.
Q Mike, are you going to write a book?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Well, not immediately. I might -- (laughter.) My agent advised me never to say "no." (Laughter.) If I ever write a book I don't want it to be about this business because -- I'll put in a plug for Marlin -- I wouldn't write a book much different from Marlin Fitzwater's book, which deals with many of the same people in this room and many of the same kinds of things.
Q You might have a different judgment.
MR. MCCURRY: No, he has a pretty good take on it.
Q What would you write about?
MR. MCCURRY: About the changes we're going through as a culture, as we try to communicate about public policy and the Information Age.
Q Sounds boring.
MR. MCCURRY: Sounds dull. (Laughter.) No, it sounds like a text book that might get ordered over and over on --
Q Can you share what your best moment and your worst moment was in your position? Does today fit into any of these categories?
MR. MCCURRY: Best moments --
Q Today. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Packing up and leaving. (Laughter.) No. Actually -- the worst moments and the ones that I've struggled with, ironically, we touched on today, and that's the tragedy in the Balkans. As some of you know, I did a college thesis on Yugoslavia and traveled in that region as a kid. And the unspeakable horror that's happened in the Balkans, the way in which we at first could not come to grips with it, but then later kind of summoned up the willpower to actually insert ourselves into that process and achieve the Dayton Accords has produced in some ways the worst and the best moments.
And that's really -- we talk about a lot of stuff in here that's just not that central to the lives of people, but that has been a life-and-death matter.
Q You've had one of the most civil staffs we've ever dealt with.
MR. MCCURRY: That's good. They're ordered to be that way. (Laughter.) And so shall they remain.
Q Have you learned anything in five and a half years from this press and from this White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, quite a bit about it. But I'm going to go out and make people pay to hear it from now on. (Laughter.)
Q Some of your fellow White House officials have remarked in recent weeks that your status has increased to a kind of superstar level --
MR. MCCURRY: Those are just the envious ones.
Q -- in part because of the uncomfortable you've been in over the last several months. Can you talk a little bit about that? Have you noticed it? Do you feel a different --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I mean, there has been a lot of -- there is a lot to say -- look, I will not talk about the phenomenon that has occurred here in the last eight months because I haven't really sorted it all out myself. I read a paper that Marvin Kalb has just sent me the other day that he's produced, and I'd recommend that as required reading to everyone here. A lot of it has got some pretty important observations that we should all reflect on. And it does not necessarily criticize you any more than it criticizes us, but it really raises the issue of how we conduct business in this town and how we talk about the work of the presidency and the work that happens in this town, and it raises some important issues that we should all struggle with.
Look, when you're in the middle of the -- I like to say I'm the chum in the feeding frenzy, so I'm not the guy to be making profound pronouncements.
Yes, April, put me out of my misery.
Q The last time this room was this full was at the beginning of this scandal.
MR. MCCURRY: Yeah, what are you all doing here?
Q Yes. How does it make you feel that you're finally the news story and your news of leaving is maybe just as big as --
MR. MCCURRY: Embarrassed. And let me say this as directly as I can. I made probably, for better or worse -- looks like today for worse -- the decision that we televise these things and make them available to you in the electronic media. There are moments like this one where I probably regret that decision.
But the press secretary of the President -- we come and go, but we didn't get elected to be anything. And I will certainly enjoy whatever notoriety I have, and I will certainly use it to the good fortune of my family in the future. (Laughter.) Don't mistake me on that. I appreciate it very much. But, look, it's not about the personality of the people who are here. We have but one requirement, which is to report accurately and truthfully on the work the President has done. And our guess and always our assumption is that if we get good, accurate, truthful reporting on the work of the President, since we think we're doing the right thing, that will engender support in the American people.
That's why it's in our self-interest to do exactly what you are in the business of doing, which is to report truthfully on what's happening at the White House to the consumers. So there is some common interest here.
But personality and who stands here is not a part of it. That's why when Joe walks in here and starts on Monday, it will be sort of a seamless transition, because there is only one person that got elected to do the job that we all do here, and that's Bill Clinton. And that's who you all are covering, and that's who we work for. And that's who the American people want to know about it -- they want to know about his thinking and his decision-making. And that's why you legitimately want to see more of him.
Q What a good idea.
MR. MCCURRY: All right, enough. Dash, 30, dash.
THE PRESS: Thank you. (Applause.)
END 2:37 P.M. EDT