View Header


                     Office of the Press Secretary
                           (Auburn, New York)
For Immediate Release                                    August 31, 1999

                             PRESS BRIEFING

                            The Holiday Inn
                            Auburn, New York

11:20 A.M. EDT

MR. SIEWERT: A couple of announcements at the top here.

The President returned, as you know, returned to the home yesterday after the trip to the State Fair, which they enjoyed tremendously, and made a couple calls. I'll let you know about those. He called Secretary Albright about her upcoming trip to the Mideast and asked her to take stock of what was going on in the region there, in Damascus, in Gaza and in Israel. And he will probably be talking to her a bit as she conducts her business there, and we'll get a chance to hear from her. When he travels to New Zealand, she'll be meeting up with us in Auckland for the APEC ministerial meetings.

He also placed a call to Prime Minister Guterres of Portugal. We've been working with the Portuguese to do what we can to foster fair and free democratic elections in East Timor, or balloting process in East Timor. And the President thought that the balloting there went well. We are going to look forward to seeing how the UN conducts the vote count over the next week or so. But we were pleased by the high turnout, found that an encouraging sign and the relative lack of violence on the ground there.

The President will travel -- those are the only two calls. He also placed a call to Mr. Berger, just for his daily update.

Q To check that he is on the job?

MR. SIEWERT: To check that he is on the job.

The President will travel on Monday, to Norfolk, Virginia, to do a back to school event on education. And, obviously, he'll stress the need as we face the prospects of a budget fight in the fall. He'll be placing some emphasis on what we need to do to prepare our schools and our children for the challenges of the 21st century. We expect that will be just a day trip.

Last night they had dinner, obviously, in town. They had dinner with, I believe, a friend of Chelsea's and her family, as well -- along with Terry McAuliffe, a local boy who made good -- and the hometown hero here.

He'll be playing golf with Mr. McAuliffe today and a couple of local politicians and businessmen from the Syracuse area. I expect they'll leave -- the pool is probably over there -- I expect they'll leave sometime after mid-day.

One other note, John Podesta -- we may have put this out, but John Podesta will give a speech tomorrow morning at the National Press Club, again about the budget and particularly about the importance of preserving investments in science and research and development. I believe that will be at 9:30 a.m., for those of you who want to make flight plans to travel back and catch that.

So that's it. What do you have for me?

Q Well, you said that the President was pleased about what was going on in East Timor, but what about these reports that the three UN observers who were killed?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I said it was a relative lack of violence. I mean, this is an area that has historically been deeply troubled by violence. And there were some incidents that were disturbing at the same time, particularly given what people expected. This was a relatively peaceful process, very high turnout and some very encouraging signs. We'll wait and see what the UN has to say at the end of the week. But the President wanted to talk to the Portuguese Prime Minister, who has been a successful interlocutor with the Indonesians in the region there. And we'll keep on top of that.

I'm not sure if we've read this out, but the President did send a letter to Prime Minister Habibie last week, stressing the importance of ensuring that these elections proceeded in a fair and free manner and stressed that we would keep a very close eye on those elections and the process as this moves forward.

Q Jake, is the President aware of these alleged tape recordings that show some of these FALN convicts planning new acts of violence?

MR. SIEWERT: I think we have been very clear that we're not going to go into the actual dynamics of presidential decision making on this. The President got a full range of views before he made that decision. These people obviously committed criminal acts and they served some time in jail for those.

What the President has made perfectly clear in this grant of clemency is that these are conditioned on renunciations of violence.

Q Is it accurate that the President ignored unanimous objections of law enforcement agencies in offering to commute these sentences?

MR. SIEWERT: I think, as I said, we made pretty clear that we're not going to comment on the actual views that were presented to the President. We don't typically do that, and this won't be an exception to that rule.

Q How long is the clemency offer live, in terms of, is there a time frame when you have to hear back from --

MR. SIEWERT: I'll have to check and get back to you on that. I don't know that off the top of my head.

Q Jake, Jim Nicholson previewed a commercial that they're going to start running in the area, on their tax bill and about the $10,000 that New Yorkers would get. Do you guys have any reaction to that?

MR. SIEWERT: Another selective media buy. We believe that the longer the Republicans talk about their tax cut, the less popular it seems to be. And that's for a good reason, because the American people recognize that now is not the time for a massive tax cut that might imperil the prosperity that Americans are enjoying today. We've seen time and time again that Republicans who've gone to their districts over this recess and asked their constituents what they want from their government are telling them that they want a modest, sensible, targeted tax cut, and not a big giveaway that might threaten Social Security, threaten Medicare and threaten to keep this country in debt.

So the more they talk about it, the better, as far as we're concerned.

Q Is there a snowball's chance that the President would be moved by the arguments Mr. Nicholson makes, and his display of $10,000 in cash and change his mind and say, I'm going to sign that bill, when it reaches his desk?

MR. SIEWERT: No. Not a snowball's chance.

Q Is there a chance he would even see the ad? Is there a chance that he would even see the ad?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, $10,000 -- I don't know what that buys you here, but if the President gets off the golf course and flips on the news, he might see it, he might not. I'm not sure.

Q Mr. Nicholson also criticized the First Family for vacationing at taxpayers' expense and, essentially, campaigning at taxpayers' expense. Could you tell me, first, what is the payment -- do taxpayers pay for the airlift for vacation? And, secondly, is it fair to say that what they're doing -- going to the State Fair -- is campaigning for Mrs. Clinton?

MR. SIEWERT: I'll try -- I don't want to detail each and every expenditure, and how those are apportioned. Mr. Kennedy might be able to help you on those.

But let me just say generally that we follow -- this is not novel. This is not new. We follow a time-honored tradition of looking at the law, looking at the regulations that govern the use of taxpayer money, and making decisions, dividing up costs, as it were, between the government and the exploratory committee.

In the case of yesterday, just for an example, the state fair, costs were underwritten by her exploratory committee, as were some other costs associated with their travel up here. You may have seen some different advance people, some different people, that were paid for by her exploratory committee.

But if you want, you know, chapter and verse on that one, you'd need to check with Mr. Nicholson -- with Mr. Kennedy.

Q We already checked with Mr. Nicholson. (Laughter.)

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, we know what he thinks. (Laughter.)

Q Jake, we haven't heard the President at all comment on some of the current controversies besetting the administration. For example, the Branch Davidian compound thing, the Russian money-laundering thing. The President has not directly commented on any of these. Is it likely he will? He's tried to avoid it, from when people shouted questions at him here and in Martha's Vineyard and so forth. He's ignored them. Why is he avoiding this?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, he is on vacation. I don't expect that we'll have a press conference while he's on vacation. The press had a fair amount of access to him yesterday. He was asked a number of questions. He answered all of them, as far as I could tell.

I don't expect that we'll be holding a press conference before we return to Washington, but we'll make some -- we certainly made our views on some of those matters, and we'll continue.

Q He was asked some of those questions yesterday, and didn't respond.

MR. SIEWERT: I didn't hear them, and I was with him all day.

Q Nicholson said that the Republicans will send a tax bill down next week. Would he expect to veto it before he goes to New Zealand?

MR. SIEWERT: If we get it before we go to New Zealand, I don't see any reason to delay. We would like to focus on some sort of constructive package that would allow us to both protect Social Security and Medicare, make some critical investments and provide some tax relief. So as soon as they're willing to get serious about that, we'll be serious.

If we get the tax bill before we leave, we'll veto it. If they want to delay and send it to us while we're in New Zealand, as some sort of cheap stunt, they can do that.

Q Just on the FALN tapes again. Is there any question that these tapes exist?

MR. SIEWERT: I'll check on that. I don't know.

Q What is the First Lady doing today?

MR. SIEWERT: I expect that she may be out and about, and you may want to check with her staff about her plans. The President will be playing golf, as I said, and I think she may take the chance to see a little bit of the area. And they may, tomorrow, together, go out and see some of the surrounding countryside. We'll let you know as those plans unfold.

Q Jake, is there anything on these talks about the compensation for the Chinese Embassy bombing in Beijing?

MR. SIEWERT: Let me check and get back to you on that.

That's it? All right.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 11:30 P.M. EDT