THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT AND PJ CROWLEY The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:08 A.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: Good morning. A quick statement from the President that I'll read: Today we have more evidence that our economic strategy is working. The American economy has created more than 22 million jobs since the beginning of 1993. More than 20 million of these jobs are in the private sector, giving us the highest share of private sector job creation since President Truman was in office. The benefits of job creation have been enjoyed across the American economy, with the unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanics falling to record lows this year.
This good news is another reminder that America should not reverse course with irresponsible tax cuts that risk our fiscal discipline and jeopardize our continued economic strength. Let's ensure that the American people can continue to break records by maintaining fiscal discipline, paying off the debt by 2012, keeping Social Security and Medicare strong for the next generation, investing in education and other priorities.
Q Are the Vice President's tax cuts responsible?
MR. SIEWERT: They are. They're responsible and they're targeted.
Q Why are they more responsible than --
MR. SIEWERT: Because they dedicate the vast bulk of the surpluses to paying off the debt and ensuring that Social Security and Medicare are strengthened.
I will take questions, and PJ is here to take your questions as well. We can try to make it orderly, or you could just ask random questions in random order and we can bounce back and forth, however you'd like to do it.
Q Jake, what in the way of preparation is the President doing for the summit next week?
MR. SIEWERT: Will begin with Mr. Crowley.
MR. CROWLEY: I think he will be getting briefed by the senior staff. I think there will be opportunities for him to reflect on past meetings. Obviously what will happen at Camp David next week builds upon previous experiences both with Wye and with Shepardstown, but primarily this is about continuing to be assessing where the parties are and prepared for setting a good tone, and working hard in the next few days to reach an agreement on the core final status issues.
Q PJ, the tone seems to be very pessimistic. Both sides seem to be very downbeat for the moment about this summit. What's the President's sense of --
MR. CROWLEY: I would call the tone very realistic. I think we understand quite well the difficulty of these issues. It has been seven years since Oslo. The reason final status issues were left until the end is because they were so difficult. And yet, I think the President recognizes that this is also an historic opportunity. So all we can guarantee next week is that we'll give it our 100 percent effort to move the leaders towards agreement on the course of final status issues.
Q Is Okinawa a hard and fast deadline for the President? Does he have to go, or is it conceivable he would stick around --
MR. CROWLEY: The President is planning to go to Okinawa. Just as a planning item, we will have the press sign up for the Okinawa trip this afternoon. The President will leave on July 19th. He will travel to Tokyo for a brief stop of a few hours of a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Mori. He'll also participate in an information technology development event with G-8 leaders, and then we'll move on to Okinawa. But we plan to be in Okinawa for the G-8 summit.
Q Any more on when the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will get here and where they will be meeting before the summit begins Tuesday?
MR. CROWLEY: I don't know. I'll defer to the State Department and my colleague, Richard Boucher, on that. But as far as I know, they do arrive this weekend. They will do some preparatory work prior to Tuesday. But I don't have a set schedule.
Q You mentioned he'll be thinking about Wye and also the meeting in Shepardstown as he gets ready for this. Are you thinking that he'll be reviewing his MO, the amount of time he spends with people, or is it more of a substantive thing, the issues than versus then --
MR. CROWLEY: I think everything of this nature has taken on a dynamic of its own. So I expect when the leaders arrive at Camp David on Tuesday there will be an initial plenary meeting among the leaders, and then from there they'll start meeting in different combinations and they'll just start working the issues, and the process will take care of itself.
So I think the President will clearly spend a substantial amount of time at Camp David. He will be integrally involved with the leaders, both collectively, individually. He and his team will be meeting in various combinations with both the negotiators. They'll pull in experts for the specific issues that are at stake here. And this is a process that I think they'll just define and will create its own dynamic as it moves forward.
Q Will he be shuttling back and forth or will he stay up there overnight?
MR. CROWLEY: I think you'll see a combination, depending on how -- we reset his schedule that he will spend time up there, he will come back here periodically. Again, I think this will flow as the meetings get started.
Q Do you have anything on press arrangements yet?
MR. CROWLEY: We've had White House and State Department advance teams up there. I think the press file will be at the Thurmont Elementary School. And then we'll -- we'll take a filing break, if you want to -- but, obviously, we'll have a press file as near as we can. But, clearly, once the leaders get to Camp David, it is a location that I think will help facilitate progress on the process.
Q Has the President talked to President Carter at all, or any of his people?
MR. CROWLEY: I can't say that he has. I think that both on the press side, with Joe and for the President, as he thinks through approaches for Tuesday, he may well reach out to people who were a part of the summit in 1978.
Q PJ, the Palestinians expect this meeting to lead to another in August. Are they wrong to expect that?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that the President has pledged that he is going to work as hard as he can over the next several days to push the leaders towards an agreement. Remember, the finish line is an agreement on the core status issues. These talks next week are a part of the process of moving to bridge their differences that exist and reach that agreement.
So we're prepared to work as hard as we can over the next several days and actually get an agreement. But whether we reach that goal I think will depend as the meetings get started and we can build momentum with the leaders on hand to work as they will.
Q And if it seems to take another meeting in August to reach that agreement?
MR. CROWLEY: Wendell, it's a fair question, but at this point, we're prepared to go Tuesday and we're prepared to work as hard as we can, and we'll go as far as we can in the time that's available.
Q PJ, in terms of momentum and trying to do everything the President can do to foster the process, is there any flexibility in his departure time for Japan? Is that under consideration?
MR. CROWLEY: The President is planning to attend the G-8 meeting and he's planning to depart Washington on July 19th.
Q PJ, how do you respond -- some of the Republicans are concerned that the administration is not consulting with them about what kind of U.S. assistance could be involved if there is any peace yield. They're thinking that the administration might go into the summit promising to spend more than they can deliver.
MR. CROWLEY: I think that the leaders on Capitol Hill understand, as the President does, that reaching an agreement and moving towards a comprehensive peace in the Middle East is in the interest of the United States, it's in the interest of the rest of the world. I think they understand that resources will be necessary to support and sustain an agreement if one can be reached. But as to how -- what kind of support, how much support, that will be something, obviously, the President has pledged that he will consult with Congress before making any final decisions on what the U.S. contribution to supporting a peace agreement would be.
Q PJ, has the President gotten some sort of resolution on this issue with Mr. Barak about the sale of these Falcon radar systems to China?
MR. CROWLEY: The Falcon system is something that is still under discussion between the two governments.
Q Is it likely to be discussed next week?
MR. CROWLEY: The focus of next week's talks are Middle East peace.
Q I understand that, but is it likely that the Falcon would be discussed?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, they're going to spend a lot of time together; can I rule out that during a conversation somebody might say, while I've got you here -- I can't rule that out. But the focus is Middle East peace.
Q PJ, is there going to be any down time or play time or just relax time up there?
MR. CROWLEY: I don't want to draw parallels between 1978 and the year 2000; they're different leaders, different issues, same setting. But I do know that 22 years ago, President Carter took opportunities to take the leaders to Gettysburg and to other places up there, and I think again, once the leaders are together and they see the pace of negotiations and talks, if they decide to go off and see some of the beautiful Maryland countryside, that will be something that the President may well propose. But I can't judge.
MR. CROWLEY: Golf is good. Peace is good.
Q Do the leaders play golf?
MR. CROWLEY: I don't know. That's a good question.
Q I understand that there's supposedly some shuffling, though, going on as far as the President's schedule of things that were set from Tuesday on, that there's been some shuffling for some events -- like Tuesday was the NAACP Convention that he was supposed to speak to. And I understand that they're still leaving it in flux, that he could still go. Is that kind of thing happening for other situations?
MR. CROWLEY: I think as part of this informative briefing, we'll have the week ahead for you, which will give you a signal as to what the President's plans are next week.
Q Were there other sites considered outside of Camp David?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
Q Why did you choose Camp David?
MR. CROWLEY: Just the bottom line was that this was the -- we think the right place to support the leaders at this time.
Q Jake, can you say anything about plans by the President to deal with the anti-environmental rider on the supplemental spending bill?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't have much to add to what Joe said earlier this week, that we are examining our options to deal with that provision. As you know, we had put in place a process to strengthen water quality standards and we're continuing to look at administrative options to deal with that particular rider.
Q Jake, what is the President and the White House involvement in this federal execution delay?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, the judge in that case set an execution date for Mr. Garza before the clemency guidelines for capital cases were complete. Those are guidelines that we are working on in conjunction with the Department of Justice, and we expect the Department of Justice to have those to the White House within the next week or so.
The President wants to make sure that Mr. Garza has a full opportunity to submit a request for clemency and that the President, himself, has an opportunity to review that matter completely. Given that time line, we expect the President will stay Mr. Garza's sentence to make sure that process has an opportunity to play itself out.
Q For how long?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not going to address that today. But I can say that we expect that -- we want Mr. Garza to have an opportunity to submit a request for clemency. We want to make sure that there are firm guidelines in place. There hasn't been a federal execution for nearly 40 years. There has not been a person in federal system who has exhausted all their judicial remedies who is facing the death penalty since 1963. So we expect that the President will want to take some time and make sure that he has a full opportunity to --
Q Why are these guidelines not ready?
MR. SIEWERT: This is something that the Justice Department has been working on for the last three months. There are guidelines in place today, to be clear, that govern federal clemency petitions. But we wanted to ensure that we had a full opportunity to have guidelines that dealt specifically with prisoners who are on death row who have exhausted their legal remedies and wanted to request executive clemency from the President.
Q Will your stay extend long enough for Justice to finish these reports on the racial makeup of death row inmates?
MR. SIEWERT: What we want to do is ensure that this person -- that this prisoner has an opportunity to request executive clemency under guidelines that are clear, that have been published. And that is what the stay will go to.
Q What's the factor in terms of punting this from here on out? Is this an effort to punt it past the election, or maybe into the next --
MR. SIEWERT: No, this is an effort to establish clear guidelines that govern capital cases that this prisoner will have an opportunity, other prisoners will have an opportunity to seek executive clemency through well-established guidelines that reflect the realities of today's.
Q So it's only a coincidence that this will almost inevitably prolong it past the election?
MR. SIEWERT: Obviously, the judge set a date that was a date in August that -- the judge set a date in August which is dictating the timetable in terms of -- but that was set by a judge, a federal judge in Texas.
Q When is the President going to grant this stay? I mean, is he definitely going to do it?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we're going to wait and take a look at the executive -- the guidelines that govern executive clemency and we expect those within the next week or so.
Q PJ, can I ask you -- you said the President would consult with Congress before making any final decision on aid that might be associated with this deal. That sounds pretty much like they're going to be presented with a fait accompli, or are they going to be consulted all the way along on the funding level?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that as a potential agreement takes shape, as you work through the issues, you'll start to understand from an Israeli point of view, for example, what kind of elements will they need in security so that they can have the guarantees to go back to the Israeli people and say that this agreement will make them more secure. We have supported Israel in the past in terms of guaranteeing its security and we will continue to do that.
And as we have in the past, we have proposed assistance to the Palestinians to help them understand that peace is in their interest and that we can work with them to help build prosperity for the future. So we recognize that as an agreement takes shape, there are going to be specific requirements that will be attached to that as you work through the various final status issues.
To the extent that as the President assesses the agreement that there's a role for the United States to play, he will, at that point, consult with Congress and say, we think these are the requirements to support and sustain this peace agreement; these are capabilities that we, the United States, might have and it is in our interest to support them. So we will consult fully with Congress as this agreement takes shape to be able to help Congress understand what we think the United States can contribute to the success of this agreement.
Q So an ongoing consultative process, not just, here's the number, why don't you accept that?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that as this unfolds, we'll have the opportunity to reach out to Congress as we see both what the requirements are to support and agreement, what we can do, and this will be something we will do as we have done in the past.
Q And given that Congress hasn't been overly eager in the last few years to appropriate money for foreign aid, and that Israel is already getting a substantial amount of foreign aid, how concerned are you that Congress may not come up with the money that you're looking for?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that everyone understands that a comprehensive peace in the Middle East is in our interest, and that we need to be prepared to support it if there is an agreement.
Q On tonight's missile test, granted Secretary Cohen is not going to make his recommendation for a matter of weeks, I guess, but is it inconceivable that the President would not make his recommendation on whether or not to go ahead with construction of the missile defense until after the November election?
MR. CROWLEY: We have a process in place, and once this test occurs it will take several days for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization to assess the results of this test. It's very complex. There are a lot of elements to national missile defense, including both the ability to detect it, the command control communications, the kill vehicle -- the decision-making process that allows you to effectively engage an incoming missile and potentially destroy it.
So this is a very complex test, it's a very complex process. And so it will take some time for the Pentagon to assess the results of this test. That will feed into Secretary Cohen's recommendation to the President once the Pentagon finishes what they call deployment readiness review. So I think this will be a process that unfolds over the next several weeks at a minimum.
Q But is it fair to say that even if the test isn't successful, we might go ahead and build the system anyway?
MR. CROWLEY: I think there will be a great temptation to do some instantaneous analysis after the test tonight. I would say a hit doesn't automatically suggest success, nor does a failure automatically come with a miss tonight. So I think everyone needs to understand that this is going to be a process that unfolds over many weeks, both in terms of analyzing what tonight's test shows, how that feeds into the Pentagon's recommendation to the President. And again the President will make his decision later this year based on the four criteria that we've enunciated before.
Q Once again, could later this year be on the other side of the election in November?
MR. CROWLEY: The election is not a factor in the President's decision-making process.
Q Granted, but could it be on the other side?
MR. CROWLEY: Wendell, there's no date in the wall, so early November -- what is driving this process is the need to potentially, depending on the President's decision, begin the process so that construction can begin -- next year. So that is why it has to be done sometime this year. But there's no arbitrary date that says it has to be done by this particular date.
Q PJ, what constitutes success, though, for this mission?
MR. CROWLEY: This is a test, and this is one of 16 integrated flight tests that the Pentagon has scheduled as part of this development program. So I'm sure that politically, those who are in favor of national defense will find something tonight that supports their argument; those who are opposed to national defense will do the same. The President ultimately will make his best judgment later this year, based on his advisors providing him the best possible perspective regarding threat, cost, technical feasibility and the overall impact on our national security. So, ultimately, the President is going to pass is judgment on deployment based on what is right.
Q PJ, back to the summit -- obviously, the President has been involved in these type negotiations many times now. Could you tell us what distinguishes this one for the President?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we recognize that there has never been a better opportunity to reach a comprehensive agreement, and the President understands that we have leaders who are prepared to show courage, flexibility, who have mandates from their respective people that it is time to reach an agreement. But at the same time, the President recognizes that these are extraordinarily emotional, difficult, and complex issues, but he believes that it's time to bring the leaders together. They can talk through these issues, see what progress can be made and see if we can't move toward an agreement that we think enhances security and stability in the Middle East.
Q Jake, can I ask one more on the death penalty? Obviously, the President has been a strong supporter of the death penalty, but in light of these new clemency guidelines -- there's a Justice Department report coming out soon on racial, geographical disparities -- is his support changing?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think the President has been pretty clear on this. As a strong supporter of the death penalty, he feels under particular obligation that it is administered justly. That's why he's asked in this case for clear guidelines that govern clemency. And given that nearly 40 years has passed since the last prisoner was in this situation, he wants new guidelines that reflect the realities of today's judicial system, and the realities of today's federal capital cases.
So he's asking that we have clear guidelines in place because he believes that if we're to administer the death penalty, we ought to make sure that it's done in a just manner. He's been very clear about the racial disparities. He said in the press conference that the initial reports are disturbing and he wants to know more. And the Justice Department is working on that. I can't prejudge what they'll find, but when they have a final report the President will take a look at it and make his own decisions.
Q How many death penalties are these guidelines going to apply to? Presumably, whoever enters the Oval Office in January would have the authority to revise them, change them, put in new guidelines?
MR. SIEWERT: I would hope -- I mean, we're doing a thorough job; it's taking some time to do this. It's important work, and I would hope that they would be -- they're being developed at the Justice Department by -- I would hope that these guidelines would be used by future Presidents. Obviously, other Presidents would have the ability to change those guidelines, but they're basically procedural guarantees that executive clemency pleas are treated in a fair and expeditious manner.
Q I know they're not here yet, but can you give us a sense of what we're talking about in terms of what these guidelines --
MR. SIEWERT: No. We'll see them next week, probably next week, and we'll have more to say on that when we have them.
Q Do you still plan to put them out for comment?
MR. SIEWERT: There is some confusion about that. These are advisory regulations, which means that once the President and the Department of Justice agree on them, they will be published, yes, in the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations so the people have an opportunity to look at them. But there's not an official comment period.
Q Does it imply that once they're published, they're final, but there would still be an opportunity for people to look at them, get back with some comments, and conceivably they could be amended?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't expect that. I think that we will -- once we've agreed with the Department of Justice on these regulations, they'll be final. They exist essentially for the guidance of the Department of Justice personnel, who are responsible for administering these cases and to give public information about the process. Obviously, if people make comments or people see them and have some particular complaint about them, we'll listen to their views.
Q But there is no effective comment --
MR. SIEWERT: It's not like a proposed rule that would go through OMB, be published for an initial period, and then there are final guidelines. The rule, when published in the Code of Federal Regulations, is essentially final.
Q How about the fundraisers in California?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll do the week ahead, if we're ready for that. Do we have anything else? You don't want to ask me about leaks, or anything like that? No.
The President's weekly radio address will be broadcast live Saturday morning at 10:06 a.m. The President will be addressing the congressional agenda. There are no public events for the President's schedule tomorrow.
Q What about the Internet address?
MR. SIEWERT: The President is also, today, taping a webcast that will be broadcast tomorrow. It's his third such webcast in a row, three weeks in a row, to the delight of the speechwriters. And that will be broadcast tomorrow, and that will focus on the new White House website, which is up and running today.
On Sunday, the President has no public schedule. On Monday, he'll travel to Pennsylvania in the morning -- late morning. He'll probably leave the White House around 11:30 a.m., and make remarks to the National Governors' Association Annual Meeting in State College, Pennsylvania. Obviously, it will be an opportunity for him to survey some of the work that he's done with his former colleagues in the governor's mansions across the country and statehouses, and reflect a bit on the progress we've made on welfare, health care, education, other issues.
He will then go to Philadelphia, where he'll make remarks at a dinner for Ron Klink for U.S. Senate, where again he'll have an opportunity to reflect on what a change in the makeup of the Senate might mean for the patients' bill of rights. And he will return to the White House that evening.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the President's schedule is TBD. We obviously expect that he'll go to Camp David at some point to participate in the Middle East peace summit, as PJ made clear, but the departure time is TBD at this point.
On Thursday, the President will participate in the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for Father Theodore Hesburgh, on Capitol Hill. That's at 2:00 p.m. As you know, Father Hesburgh was the longtime President of the University of Notre Dame, and a leading activist on behalf of civil rights and other social issues. The rest of the day his schedule is TBD, as well as on Friday.
Q Do you expect the -- maybe this was mentioned earlier, but do you think the leaders will come here before going there, or they'll go straight up there?
MR. CROWLEY: No, they won't come here.
Q And are they to arrive Monday or Tuesday morning, or what?
MR. SIEWERT: Still TBD.
Q So he will be speaking at the NAACP Convention?
MR. SIEWERT: The President would like to address the NAACP Convention in Baltimore. He made a commitment to do that. He also made a commitment to address the DLC on Friday in Baltimore, but at the moment, those are not on his schedule.
Q So they could be on his schedule?
MR. SIEWERT: We'll see how things go in Camp David.
Q That was also the Friday -- was he supposed to do that on-line chat with British Prime Minister Tony Blair?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, that was part of the DLC event in Baltimore. At the moment, that is not on his schedule.
Q What's the deal with all these Internet speeches? Does he not think his message is getting through on the radio sufficiently lately? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: The President loves --
Q -- that he's doing the Internet addresses?
MR. SIEWERT: The President loves the radio. It's a great medium. It's been used by Presidents for years. But the President wanted to take advantage of a new medium, a medium for the 21st century. And he actually -- the reality is that we did a webcast in Los Angeles several weeks ago on a particular issue -- a new government search engine for federal information. The President enjoyed it and asked to do some more. I don't know that we'll be doing them every week, but so far we have, and we'll let you know if we can --
Q Are you tracking hits?
Q Yes, are you getting a better response on the web?
MR. SIEWERT: Let me check -- on the website, certainly, it's one of the most popular websites being used. I know you all use it to get our press releases. But on the webcast, I don't know that specifically. I can check on that. But they've actually gotten a lot of attention. Certainly the on-line news organizations cover them very closely, and it's an excellent opportunity for him to talk about issues that particularly affect the Internet and affect information technology.
Q Anything more specific on the NGA?
MR. SIEWERT: Not at this point, no. But, as I said, it will probably cover the full range of issues that the President's worked on with governors over the last eight years, from education to welfare reform to health care.
Q Thank you, Jake.
Q Will the President ask for G-8 support in Japan before concluding a deal here in Camp David? Because we are talking of money here.
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not aware of any discussions like that.
Q Thank you.
MR. SIEWERT: All right, thank you.
END 10:40 A.M. EDT