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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                           (Denver, Colorado)
For Immediate Release                                     April 12, 2000
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY

                        Denver Convention Center
                            Denver, Colorado

2:45 P.M. MDT

MR. REED: Good afternoon. I'm Bruce Reed, the President's domestic policy advisor, and I wanted to just clear up a couple of things from some confusion that arose in the Town Hall.

Mr. Brokaw referenced a letter from Mr. Conyers and Mr. Hyde that I think all of you received on the plane, and left the impression that there is some kind of agreement between Conyers and Hyde. There isn't. They were sending a joint letter to Senator Hatch to indicate their desire for the juvenile justice conference to meet, and the letter, which you all have, indicates that there are still some issues that Conyers and Hyde would like to work through, but that they are in agreement that we ought to -- that the conference ought to meet and that too much time has passed with no progress.

But while I'm here, if there are other questions about what went on today, go ahead.

Q In that letter, he makes it sound like Hyde thinks the answer is to hold the conference. That other letter that he sent said we can't have a conference because Democrats are holding this up, they don't want a compromise. So it sounds like he sent two different letters --

MR. REED: Since the first letter, Mr. Hyde has sent a second letter to the President in which he suggests that he is going to be offering another compromise, and we have not had a chance to review the language of that compromise. The early indications are that it's more the appearance of a compromise than a real compromise. It may, in fact, in some respects, be weaker than the last offer from Mr. Hyde. Again, the letter itself doesn't include the details, but I've been told that it may actually reopen gun sales across states lines, which is currently prohibited, and that it falls short in other respects.

I can't say more until I've actually seen the language, but there is no agreement. I think Mr. Conyers will have more to say later this afternoon about the Hyde offer.

Q -- letter indicates that Chairman Hyde is willing to meet the President's concerns about gun show sales, loopholes there, as well as safety locks, ammo clips, juvenile possession of assault weapons. So are you suggesting it opens up problems in other areas not addressed by the juvenile justice bill --

MR. REED: As the President said in the Town Hall, the devil is always in the details here. I gather that there are still some problems with the gun show provisions of the Hyde offer, though, as I said, I haven't seen it, so I can't go into much detail about them.

But at the same time, it appears to weaken current law in some other respects. That's what happened in the original House debate, was that not only was the proposal that passed on the House floor insufficient in gun shows, but it opened up some new laws in current law. And we've said that in closing the gun show loophole, we shouldn't open up other loopholes.

Q Bruce, in that second letter, Chairman Hyde says that he has become increasingly disappointed with what used to be the strategy of leading House Democrats, that they are deliberately out to avoid any compromise on gun safety, that they would rather have the political issue than have an agreement.

MR. REED: We said all along we'd much rather resolve this issue. We've got plenty of things to fight about in the election, would rather pass a law than have a political battle, and the President and Democrats have been bending over backwards trying to bring about a meeting of the juvenile justice conference.

I think the best answer to Mr. Hyde's charge in his second letter is his first letter, which lays it at the feet of Senate Republicans who are refusing to allow the juvenile justice conferees to meet, perhaps because the gun lobby is afraid that if the conference ever actually met, something might come of it.

Q But Sam Stratton in Chairman Hyde's office said that this compromise really represents all the concerns that the President raised in last month's summit meeting, and he sort of said, wait a second, is the White House now raising the bar? Did the President sort of lay out his concerns, Chairman Hyde's addressing them, now the President has additional concerns? What do you say to that?

MR. REED: Our goal has been the same throughout. We want to do everything we can to keep criminals from buying guns at gun shows. Our concern all along has been to make sure that criminals don't slip through the cracks. As the President has said a couple of times today, 75 percent of the checks can be done within minutes, 95 percent can be done within two hours, but we need to be very concerned about those that take more than one day, because they're 20 times more likely to be rejected.

So our bar has been the same. The President has summoned the leaders to the White House, talked through the differences with Mr. Hyde and Mr. Conyers. And we appreciate any effort to try to come together here, but it's very difficult to do when we can't even get the conferees to meet, and the entire Congress is under withering pressure from the gun lobby not to produce them.

Q Chairman Hyde's office says that this compromise totally takes into account and reflects all those concerns and the concerns the President raised in the summit meeting last month.

MR. REED: As I said, I think Mr. Conyers will have more to say later about the details, which I haven't seen. But we don't want to close one set of loopholes, only to open another. And we're not convinced that the Hyde proposal adequately closes the gun show loophole either.

Q The President said he was hopeful after reading at least the first letter. I'm not sure which way the story is going. Are you guys encouraged, do you see some movement toward compromise, or movement the other way?

MR. REED: What the President said after the meeting in the Oval Office with Mr. Hyde and Mr. Conyers and Senator Hatch and Democratic leaders was that he was encouraged that Mr. Hyde had offered a compromise, Mr. Conyers had offered a compromise, and that those compromises were much closer together than the public debate would suggest; and that if the conference could come together and actually meet, that it wouldn't be so difficult to reach an agreement here.

But clearly, the congressional leadership is in no hurry to have a conference, to sit down and work out a good-faith compromise. And I think that when nine months have gone by with just a single meeting of the conferees, and when the compromises that are offered don't get any closer together, that's not a step in the right direction.

Q The President said today he was hopeful. He was talking it seemed to me about these developments. And he should not have been? You don't see any reason for hope?

MR. REED: I think there's reason to be hopeful about the first letter. It's a good sign that there's bipartisan interest, at least in the House, in getting the conferees to meet. Our position all along has been bring the conferees together, we'll abide by the outcome. It may or may not produce an acceptable bill, but let's not try to hide this in the back rooms or put it on the back burner.

Q -- clarification. I know you haven't seen the letter, but what did you say that was suggested in the Hyde letter about reopening gun shows across state lines?

MR. REED: I have seen the letter. It doesn't say anything about the details of the legislation. What I gather about the details of the legislation is that first, that it doesn't adequately close the gun show loophole, that there are still some troubling instances in which criminals could slip through the cracks; and second, that it may weaken current law in other respects, for example, by allowing gun sales across state lines. That has nothing to do with gun shows.

Current law prohibits, and has for decades prohibited, gun sales across state lines. And the original efforts in the House to torpedo passage of gun legislation last summer also included provisions to allow interstate gun sales.

Thank you very much.

END 2:55 P.M. MDT