THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT UPON DEPARTURE AT THE WHITE HOUSE SOUTH LAWN
11:55 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. All this past week a chorus of voices has been rising to urge the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Yesterday our nation's military leaders and our leading nuclear experts, including a large number of Nobel Laureates, came here to say that we can maintain the integrity of our nuclear stockpile without testing. And that we would be safer with the Test Ban Treaty.
Today, religious leaders from across the spectrum and across the nation are urging America to seize the higher ground of leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
I want to thank those who are here, including Bishop John Glynn of the US Catholic Bishop's Conference, Reverend Elenora Gidding-Ivory of the Presbyterian Church, Reverend Jay Linter of the National Council of Churches of Christ, Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism, Bishop Theodore Schneider of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Joe Volk of the Friends Committee, Dr. James Dunn; there are others here as well. And I would like to say a special word of thanks to Reverend Joan Brown-Campbell of the National Council of Churches, as she concludes her responsibilities; for all the support she has given to our Administration over the years.
And let me express my special gratitude to Senator Jim Jeffords from Vermont and Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota for their presence here and for their leadership in this cause.
These Americans are telling us that the debate about this treaty ultimately comes down to a fairly straightforward question; will we do everything in our power to reduce the likelihood that someday somewhere nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of someone with absolutely no compunction about using them? Or will we instead, send a signal to those who have nuclear weapons or those who want them, that we won't test but that they can test now or they can test when they develop or acquire the weapons. We have a moral responsibility to future generations to answer that question correctly. And future generations won't forgive us if we fail that responsibility.
We all recognize that no treaty by itself can guarantee our security, and there is always the possibility of cheating. But this treaty, like the Chemical Weapons Convention, give us tools to strengthen our security, a global network of sensors to detect nuclear tests by others. The right to demand inspections, the means to mobilize the whole world against potential violators. To throw away these tools will ensure more testing and more development of more sophisticated and more dangerous nuclear weapons.
This is a time to come together and do what is plainly in the best interest of our country by embracing a treaty that requires other nations to do what we have already decided to do ourselves. A treaty that will freeze the development of nuclear weapons around the world at a time when we enjoy an overwhelming advantage in military might and technology.
So I say to the Senate today whatever political commitments you may have made, stop, listen, think about the implications of this for our children's future.
You have heard from the military. I hope you will listen to them. You have heard from Nobel Laureates and other experts in nuclear weapons. I hope you listen to them. You listened to our military and scientific leaders about national missile defense, listen to them about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Listen to the religious leaders who say it is the right thing to do. Listen to our allies, including nuclear powers Britain and France, who say America must continue to lead. And listen to the American people who have been for this treaty from the very beginning. And ask yourselves, do you really want to leave our children a world in which every nation has a green light to test, develop and deploy nuclear weapons, or a world in which we have done everything we possibly can to minimize the risks nuclear weapons pose to our children? To ratify this treaty is to answer the question right and embrace our responsibility to future generations. Thank you.
Q If the Patients Bill of Rights fails today will you work with Republicans to get a more limited measure, or is it going to be your bill or no bill?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I believe there is a majority of support for the Norwood-Dingell Bill. And the issue is not my bill or no bill, I'm not the issue here. I'm covered by the Federal Plan and I have extended by Executive Order the protections of the Patients Bill of Rights to all people covered by all Federal plans, including the members of Congress.
The issue is whether we're going to give the American people adequate protections. The Norwood-Dingell Bill does that. We've got some Republican support for it in the House. I think Congressman Norwood, who has been a loyal Republican in virtually every respect, has shown a great deal of courage here, along with the doctors in the House, who know it's the right thing to do. We'll just hope that it works out. We've worked very hard and they've worked very hard. And I believe we have an excellent chance to win.
Q Mr. President, on the treaty, on health care, on tax cuts and even on budget matters the Republicans up on Capitol Hill seem to be saying that they do not want to work with you, they would prefer to wait until another person is in the office. Do you get that impression?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, on tax cuts I vetoed their bill, and it was the right thing to do. And it's a good thing for America. They are showing us every day they can't even fund the spending that they've already voted for, and that they tried to saddle America with another $800 billion worth of spending, and say that somehow they could pay for it.
I think there are some of them who want to be a lame duck Congress. They're still drawing a paycheck up there, and it's a little larger than it was before a bill that I signed. And I don't think they ought to make themselves into a lame duck Congress. I think they ought to show up for work and we ought to do the people's business. There are plenty of things we disagree on but we have proved that we can work together under adverse circumstances.
Does this year look more like 1999 than 1996, 1997 and 1998 -- I mean more like 1995? It does. It looks more like 1995. And I just don't think they ought to be a lame duck Congress. I don't think the American people will understand it if they insist on sitting around up here for two years and doing nothing.
Now if the Senate doesn't want to work on saving Social Security and Medicare, and educating our children then maybe they ought to take a little time and confirm our judges and do some other things. But you know, I think there are people in the Senate and in the House, on both sides, who don't want to have a lame duck two years for themselves. Senator Jeffords is here on this, Congressman Norwood and a number of other Republicans are helping on the Patients Bill of Rights; and I think we'll find a way to get some things done.
Q Would you be mending fences with the Teamsters if it weren't for the campaigns of the Vice President and Mrs. Clinton?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, absolutely. I'm not mending fences. I would have accepted this invitation to go to this event tonight under any circumstances. I have actually enjoyed a fairly constructive relationship with the Teamsters over six and a half years. I've seen all those stories and I've been a little amused by them. I don't understand what the fence mending -- we have a difference of opinion about an issue or two but I would -- if I had been invited to this under any circumstances I would certainly have gone.
Q Mr. President, any progress on delaying the treaty vote?
Q -- for the Vice President.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm sorry, I can't hear. What did you say about the treaty vote?
Q Any progress on delaying the treaty vote?
THE PRESIDENT: I had a dinner here the other night that had Republicans and Democrats, including Republicans who were on both sides of the issue. There seems to be, among really thoughtful people who care about this, an overwhelming consensus that not enough time has been allocated to deal with the substantive issues that have to be discussed.
So we have had conversations, obviously, with the leadership and with members in both parties, and I think there is a chance that they will reach an accord there.
Q Governor Bush seems to have taken a page from your history on triangulation in his dealings with a Republican-led Congress. Do you have any opinion on that, Sir?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I think the Republican Right is being too hard on Governor Bush. I mean, you know, I don't understand why they're being so mean to him about this. He has stuck with him on -- he was for that tax cut that they wanted. His main health care advisor sponsored that breakfast with the House leadership yesterday designed to help kill the Patients Bill of Rights. He stuck with them and the NRA on the gun issue. You know, he's for privatizing Social Security. I don't see why they're so hard on him. But I will say this, I personally appreciated what he said.
Raising taxes on poor people is not the way to get out of this bind we're in. But I think they're being way too hard on him and unfair.
Q When you talk to Mr. Hoffa about the AFL-CIO endorsement will you ask him to throw his support behind the Vice President?
THE PRESIDENT: Well I think everybody knows where I am on that. I have met already with the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO. That is not the purpose of my going there. They invited me to come by and I was happy to accept.
Q Will you take the opportunity --
THE PRESIDENT: I have already had a meeting with the Executive Committee -- with all the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO in which we have discussed that issue among others. Thank you very much.
Q What part of the Test Ban -- a follow-up on the Test Ban, Sir?
THE PRESIDENT: You want to ask a Test Ban question?
Q Yes, just a follow-up. If it looks like you're not going to get the votes is it better tactically to go down to defeat and blame it on the Republicans or to just --
THE PRESIDENT: I'm not interested -- that's not the -- that's a game and that's wrong. I'm not interested in blaming them for this. I think the members who committed to be against the treaty before they heard the arguments and studied the issues and listened to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Nobel Laureates made a mistake. I think that was wrong.
On the other hand, there are lots of issues, complex issues, that serious people who have questions about it have raised, that deserve to be answered, worked through. And there are plenty of devices to do that if there is time to do that. All I ask here is that we do what is in the National interest. Let's just do what's right for America. I am not interested in an issue to beat them up about. That would be a serious mistake. That's not the way for the United States to behave in the world. But neither should they be interested in an issue that they can sort of take off the table with a defeat. That would do terrible damage to the role of the United States which has been, from the time of President Eisenhower, the leader through Republican and Democratic Administrations alike, Republican and Democratic Congresses alike, until this moment we have been the leader in the cause of nonproliferation.
We should not either try to get an issue that will enable us to beat up on them, neither should they have an issue that enables them to show that they can just deep six this treaty. That would be a terrible mistake. Therefore, we ought to have a regular orderly substantive process that gives all the people the necessary time to consider this on the merit and that gives the people who made early commitments, I think wrongly, but they did it, the chance to move to doing the Senate's business the way the Senate should do it.
Look at what these people are saying here today. This is huge, this is bigger than party politics, this is bigger than personal politics, this is about America's future, and the future of our children and the world. We have a chance to reduce the likelihood that more countries will obtain nuclear weapons. We have a chance to reduce the likelihood that countries that are now working on developing nuclear technologies will be able to convert them into usable weapons. We have a chance to reduce the likelihood that countries that now have weapons will be able to make more advance, more sophisticated and bigger weapons. We cannot walk away from that and we cannot let it get caught up in the kind of debate that would be unworthy of the children and grandchildren of Republicans and Democrats. Thank you.
I would like to ask Senator Jeffords -- let me just give credit where credit is due. Senator Jeffords got this group together. And when I heard they were meeting I invited them to come down here to stand with us. So he deserves the credit for this day and Senator Dorgan has been perhaps our most vociferous advocate on the Democratic side of this treaty. So I would like to ask Senator Jeffords to say a few words and then invite Senator Dorgan to say a few words.
SENATOR JEFFORDS: Thank you, Mr. President. I thank my honored members of the religious community for the tremendous help they have been to this cause. And I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have just heard from prominent religious leaders that it is imperative that the Senate ratify this treaty.
They have told us that the issue is a vital matter of religious consciousness for their communities of faith. I hear the same message from my constituents. Nuclear proliferation is one of the largest threats, if not the largest threat, that this nation faces. Ratification of this treaty will improve our chances of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and will strengthen our national security, not only today but in the future.
We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to add this important brick to the foundation of international peace. Three years ago 152 nations agreed in principle to forgo nuclear testing, but it will take leadership to lock up that commitment. The world is looking to the United States, and this week, to the United States Senate, to show that leadership. I firmly believe we must seize this moment to ratify the treaty.
Mr. President, as you know, this is a risky venture. But there is no absolute guarantee, but I am convinced that what risks there are are certainly far outweighed by the dangers if we do not ratify. And I thank you for your leadership. And I would like to also add, I don't stand alone in the Republican Party as agreeing with this position. Thank you.
SENATOR DORGAN: Mr. President, thank you for your leadership on this issue. There are big issues and small issues. We in the Senate spend the better part of a week some while ago debating whether to rename National Airport here in Washington, DC. That's a small issue.
A big issue is the issue of whether we should ratify a treaty that will help stop the spread of nuclear weapons. And without a day of hearing, after languishing for two years in the Senate, the Majority Leader abruptly decided ten days hence we would have 14 hours of debate and make a decision as a country. That is not a responsible way to handle this issue.
It is unthinkable to me that this country or this United States Senate would decide that we will not test nuclear weapons, and we made that decision seven years ago, but we will defeat a treaty, according to some members of the Senate, that would prevent others from making the same decision, that would prevent others from conducting nuclear tests. It is an unthinkable position for me.
As I said, the question for this country is will we exhibit the moral leadership to decide that we will press the world to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and to try to prevent the horrors of a nuclear war. The ratification of this treaty is critical. This country has been a world leader and to deny this treaty would, in my judgment, deny our opportunity to make this a safer world for our children and their children.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you want to ask either one of them any questions? Thank you very much.
12:20 P.M. EDT