The Briefing Room
5:09 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Hello everybody. By popular demand, and as promised, I said I would do a very brief preview of what the President will likely open the news conference with tonight. The bulk of the news, I suspect, will be made by the President in response to your illuminating questions.
But the President will open by shortly recounting some of those things he put before the newspaper editors down in Dallas, going through some of those same arguments. And specifically on welfare reform, he will challenge the Congress to complete work by July 4th on a welfare reform package that would end welfare dependency in this country as we know it. He will suggest that would be a splendid way to celebrate Independence Day.
The President will set forth much substantively, much of the same challenge that he has already put before Congress. He's going to say that the House-passed bill is unacceptable, that the provisions of -- that the Senate need to concentrate on are those that reach back to the President's own welfare reform bill last year that are much tougher on work requirements, much tougher on child support enforcement, and much kinder to kids generally by making sure that they are not punished in the process of conducting the reforms.
He will also suggest that it might be good for the Senate as they begin to look at this question of welfare reform to go back to where they were in some respects last year and to look at a bill sponsored by Senator Dole, Senator Brown, Senator Packwood and Senator Gramm, which certainly represented a much better effort at welfare reform than the bill that's now been passed by House Republicans.
So he will talk a little bit about that, and then he will say, regardless of whether or not we can achieve the goal of comprehensive welfare reform that ends welfare as we know it by July 4th, it is important to proceed with the experimentation that's been taking place at the state level. And he will announce two additional waivers, one for Missouri and one for Montana, to allow those two states to experiment with some specific ideas on making these transitions happen between welfare and work.
Now, we're going to put out some paper momentarily on those two that just sort of put that in some context.
Q: Which numbers do they make it? Do they now bring -- that brings the number to --
MR. MCCURRY: The number now -- there will be a -- there are now a total of 30 separate waivers and they total 27 states. This adds two additional states to the list.
Q: 27 states?
MR. MCCURRY: Twenty-seven states, a total of 30 different waivers now in effect as a result of these announcements.
Q: What was in that Dole, et al, bill that he's going to tout?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they had -- they had very similar provisions to both the Deal bill, the House bill that was considered as an alternative, and in some respects similar to the President's own bill on both work requirements, on child support enforcement, on education training and skills for the transition from welfare to the workplace, and in some of the requirements for additional facilities for especially teenaged mothers.
Q: Mike, any veto threats in the opening statement?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he'll make it very clear that the House-passed welfare bill is unacceptable, as he's said on prior occasions.
Q: Anything more on the crime bill or on budget cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: He will, as he did in the radio address on Saturday, I expect him to say once again that he's got a must-do list that includes budget and spending cuts, that includes no roll-backs on crime, assault weapons in particular, and that makes progress as suggested on welfare reform.
Q: How long do you expect this to go tonight? And is he disappointed that two of the networks aren't covering it live?
MR. MCCURRY: He -- look, the President feels these occasions when he meets with you to take your questions are important occasions. We understand that networks make the judgment on whether or not to air these occasions based on what they consider newsworthy. This President has not, on many occasions, in fact, only on just a few handful of occasions, has gone to the networks to request that type of time, and we thought we made a pretty good case that this is an opportunity for Americans in prime-time to see their President taking what are presumed to be good, tough questions from the press corps.
So, naturally, we are disappointed that only one of the commercial networks will be airing the press conference. But on the other hand, there are cable outlets, there are radio, there will be other ways in which Americans can watch tonight. And we are confident that he'll have an audience that will be well worth the occasion.
Q: The technical thing -- Terry's question -- how long the opening statement and how long the whole thing?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm never -- we're always cautious when predicting the length of anything, but I think the President probably will talk about -- probably no longer than five minutes at the opening, and I want to get in at least a good half-hour of questions. The President has suggested he will try to answer things briefly so we can move swiftly through the questioning.
Q: What was the reason the networks gave for not carrying it --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that they've given --
Q: Don't they have any kind of an obligation --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that they gave us any specific answer, any specific rationale. We indicated to them -- we said, look, here's the grounds upon which we think this is a newsworthy occasion. And we, as we know, and maybe this caused some problems for some networks, we decided rather late to firmly schedule this at night. And we did so based on our own judgment of whether or not it would warrant a prime-time audience. Our judgment was that given the fact that Congress is out, that a lot of Americans are probably interested in what's going to happen next as Congress and the President work together to address the problems that Americans face. And many Americans might want to see how the President is addressing a lot of the questions that are going to be on the agenda of Congress as they come back from their current recess. And based on that, based on the fact that we thought generally it's a good idea to allow Americans to watch their President take questions from the press corps, we decided to schedule this news conference in prime- time.
Q: Mike, is he going to talk about being committed to preserving the entitlement feature of welfare? Will he get into that level of --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he's going to get down in the weeds at that level on the policy implications. He's going to talk about stressing things that I think Americans most care about -- work, tougher requirements on work, some concern about the condition of the children who should not be punished as a result of their mother's inability or their parents' inability to work, and he'll talk about some of the transitions that you can make between welfare and work. But I think he'll do it in terms that are not too laden with policy gobbledy-gook.
Q: What's so magical about July the 4th? I mean, why is setting that as --
MR. MCCURRY: It's an evocative day because it's a reasonable period of time, we think, given the work that's been done dating back to the Blair House conference when we had all the key congressional leaders with governors here at the White House, given the work that started at that point, given House passage of the bill already, given where we understand the Senate to be, and, indeed, where Senator Dole, Senator Gramm and Senator Brown and others already have been in the bill that they sponsored last year. It is certainly reasonable within the next 70-plus days to expect that the Senate could complete work, that the Senate and the House could meet and resolve any differences in those two bills and that the President could get a clean bill coming to him that would allow welfare reform to take place.
Q: Mike, Speaker Gingrich today renewed his call upon the President in reference to the news conference to submit a balanced budget before going to Moscow. Is there any reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: You can -- that's a good question to ask the President later on. The President has submitted a budget. The problem is that Congress hasn't taken it up. I mean, they keep trying to duck the issue up there. They've got to write a budget. They've got to meet deadlines. You know, the ball is in their court, and they keep trying to slide off of it.
Q: What is wrong with the current welfare system? I mean, does he think there are too many people who could work and aren't working and just taking advantage? Is that the prime fault?
MR. MCCURRY: I think their primary problem is that the transition that one would expect people to make while on welfare to employment is not taking place satisfactorily. And it's not because, in most cases, lack of jobs. We've created over 6 million new jobs in the last two years. The problem has been taking those who are sort of permanently dependent on welfare benefits and breaking that cycle of dependency, moving them into situations where they can have gainful employment.
Now there are a whole host of reasons for that that have been studied, but the problem fundamentally has been a breakdown in making that transition away from welfare dependency and into work. And that's been at the core of what welfare reform has been about and certainly what the President has worked on dating back to his days as Governor of Arkansas.
Q: Mike, does the President have any plans to ask for a meeting with the Senate leadership when they get back into town to try to advance the welfare proposal that he's talking about tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has spent a great deal of time, I think as many of you know, with members of Congress from different parts of the Senate and the House and different sort of parts of the ideological spectrum in the House and the Senate, and, of course, also had the governors centrally involved with this session I mentioned earlier at Blair House, aimed at producing a consensus on this very important issue. He is convinced we can do this. He is convinced that we can reform welfare and that the sentiment exists in Congress to do it. And I think his challenge tonight to the Congress is going to be to let's get down to work and let's get this done and let's not let partisan differences in our approaches prevent us from achieving the goal.
Q: So there are no plans -- there are no plans at this point to ask for a meeting with Dole and the others from the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's been talking with them, and certainly we have been working with them on staff at the committee level to try to develop this approach. And we will continue to do so, of course.
Q: Will he use the word veto in the opening statement?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it'll be in there. It'll be in there in a couple of different contexts. One, he is going to suggest, as he did in Dallas, that he doesn't want a pile of vetoes. That's not what he is about. He wants bills that he can sign so we can have Rose Garden signing ceremonies instead of veto messages going back to Congress.
But he will suggest, as I said earlier, that the Housepassed welfare reform bill is unacceptable. And he's made it clear that that one would be a candidate for a veto if necessary. But he is obviously going to make the point that he hopes that's not necessary given the sentiment that he understands exists on the part of many senators, especially those on the Republicans side, including the Majority Leader, that we could make progress on this issue and do it in the next two or three months.
Q: Tomorrow is Ciller. Anything in particular on the President's agenda?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, on -- the meeting with the Prime Minister will cover a full range of issues, as you would expect, with a close NATO ally, as someone that is -- had been targeted as one of the 10 emerging markets in which we want to conduct additional commerce.
But certainly at the top of the President's agenda will be the Turkish incursion into Northern Iraq and the current campaign being waged by the Turks against the PKK. And Northern Iraq will be covering ground that the President has already covered privately with the Prime Minister in a phone call and that has been the subject of diplomatic exchanges in Ankara between Strobe Talbott, others in the Turkish government and Secretary Christopher as well with his counterpart. But there will be a follow-up on that.
We will be stressing the importance of honoring the commitments made to the President on the length and duration of the mission and the scope of the current military action against -- what the Turkish government represents is, camps for armed insurgents connected with the PKK.
Q: Is the President reassured by the Prime Minister's speech in New York, saying that the drawdown has begun?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had -- our diplomatic contact with the government of Turkey is consistent with the presentation that she made today. And -- would certainly be reaffirming that and amplifying on that tomorrow.
Q: Do you want the Turks out of Iraq by July 4th?
MR. MCCURRY: The question of a deadline and a date is one that the Prime Minister herself addressed earlier today.
Q: What's he going to say to the Republicans who say, you took forever to develop your own welfare reform proposal, and now you're turning around trying to set a deadline for us?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q: I mean, doubtless, people will say that, you know, he took forever to develop his own welfare reform proposal -- he took over a year --
MR. MCCURRY: Who did? The President?
Q: The President, yes.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they --
Q: Now he's turning around and trying to set a deadline.
MR. MCCURRY: They had a good bill last year. They made progress. They had a bill introduced by Senator Dole and Senator Brown that covered much the same ground as the current proposals do. And I think's he's going to suggest that we've made a lot of progress as a lot of all that -- as a result of all that work, and we ought to be able to get across the finish line expeditiously.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 5:23 P.M. EST