The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• William J. Clinton
Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
March 17, 1993

The Briefing Room

12:55 P.M. EST

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is, as you know, at lunch with the Speaker, but I'll be happy to take questions.

Q: Could you tell me what the administration hopes to accomplish with its new policy on meat inspection? And how do you respond to consumer groups who want immediate enaction of emergency measures?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, the President has acted --

Q: What was the question?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's about meat inspections. (Laughter.)

The President does believe he must move immediately to have a modern meat inspection system. And that's why he requested $4 million in the economic stimulus investment package, which is before the Hill this week; and we hope that it is passed immediately. That's one of the reasons and one of the important investments that we think has to be met immediately.

Q: But you could take steps right now even before the appropriation is passed. Couldn't you put more inspectors out, use new scientific techniques? Some consumer groups are complaining that more needs to be done more quickly.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'd like to move as quickly as possible. Secretary Espy has announced, as you know, a comprehensive program that will increase inspectors, that will increase research and development, that will make sure we use the most advanced scientific techniques to catch the bacteria before they get anywhere near consumers. And we're doing everything we can to revamp a system which has caused 150 deaths and 150,000 illnesses in the last decade.

Q: Do you think it's safe to eat fast food hamburgers?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, obviously, we want to make sure the inspection system works, and we're going to continue to do everything we can.

Q: George, is the House and Senate taking up the budget? Secretary Aspin was supposed to testify in the last two days, there have been a lot of requests from Republicans for more details about what they're voting on. Are you losing anything by having him in the hospital? And are you losing anything on the military side with all the things going on in the country?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. Secretary Aspin was resting comfortably and actually doing some work this morning. But we also have a Deputy Secretary of Defense confirmed and in place -- Mr. Perry. And we intend to keep on functioning.

Q: Is a vote for the stimulus package a vote of loyalty to the President?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A vote on the stimulus package is a vote that's important for the American people to make sure that we keep this recovery going, make sure that we create jobs, both in the short and the long run, and to make sure that we have an investment package that will serve the American people.

Q: Is that a yes or a no?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I think it's going quite well. The President's up on the Hill today. We expect votes, we hope, tomorrow which will be successful.

Q: Why shouldn't this be viewed as a test of loyalty? It's his first big vote. It's going to be viewed as very symbolically important, apart from substantively.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the real test is the test for the American people and whether or not it's going to serve their interests and their needs. The President was elected on a pledge to get the economy moving and to take action on the economy. He is doing that. He sent up his budget proposals in record time to the Congress, and we hope that they act on it in record time, and we expect that they will.

Q: George, on the topic of pledges, why is the President backing off his promise during the New York primary to appoint a peace envoy to Ireland?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that he is. As he said earlier today that's an open question, and he is prepared to send an envoy or representative when he feels it will be useful. He is in constant consultations with Great Britain and Ireland to figure that out.

Q: George, to follow up, he said during the New York primary that he would do it; now he's not saying whether he'll do it or not. If he said he would do it, why doesn't he do it?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Because he will do it when it will be useful, when it will advance the peace process. He also said that the United States cannot make peace for Northern Ireland, but it certainly is prepared to help any process along, and that's what he intends to do. He is still open to the possibility of sending a representative when it will be useful, when it will advance the peace process.

Q: learned something since the primary that has led him to believe it might not be useful at this point, something he didn't realize, perhaps, during the primary?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. Right now, he is in consultations on that very question and he will continue to be in consultations. And when it is useful, he will be prepared to send a representative.

Q: Have the British told him that it's not -- that they don't want it?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're in discussions right now.

Q: Didn't John Major raise that issue with him?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe it was discussed, and I expect that it will continue to be discussed.

Q: Did the Prime Minister make it very clear that they thought that that would not be useful?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what his exact comments were to the President, but we are in consultations with Great Britain and Ireland, and we will continue that.

Q: George, what's your feeling about expanding the Vancouver summit with Yeltsin to bring in other G-7 heads of government to participate in a pre-Tokyo type meeting?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that that specific suggestion has been discussed, but I do know that the President wants the G-7 process to continue in a very fast manner, perhaps with a meeting of the finance ministers or a meeting of the foreign ministers of the G-7 nations. That doesn't necessarily have to be in the Vancouver meeting, but we want prompt action on a substantial package by the G-7, and we expect that we'll get it.

Q: Any progress on when that might happen?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing clear yet, but we hope to have it soon.

Q: The finance ministers are going to be in Washington at the end of April for the IMF meeting. Is that too late? Do you expect something sooner than that, or use that opportunity?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That certainly presents an opportunity. I don't know that it will be too late at all, but it is one milestone.

Q: George, on the medical price cap, how short would a short-term price freeze be, and why are you entertaining such an idea?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has always said that we need to take comprehensive and strict action to control health care costs. I would caution you to say that no decisions have been made on this or any other proposal at this point. But, clearly, the President has said we have to take concerted action to control health care costs.

Q: But, again, how short would a short-term price --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment on a proposal that hasn't been made.

Q: George, has the President -- back on the stimulus -- has he called Charlie Stenholm and any of the conservative Democrats to lean on them, to get them to back off, trying to trim it down?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. The President's position on the stimulus package is clear. He believes it should be passed, and it should be passed now. We may have some disagreements within the party, but I believe the bulk of our representatives in Congress and the representatives in Congress will agree to this package.

Q: Has he been engaged in any personal phone calls on this?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I expect that he probably will have some. I don't know of any specifics, but he's made his views on the stimulus package very clear.

Q: Was there any calling on motor voter? And is he disappointed that they seem to lost --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. I know there was another vote at noon. Do we have a final count on that? There was one more vote today, and we don't have that yet. But the President does believe that the Senate shouldn't vote closure on motor voter, and should pass the bill. I would point out that it was passed under President's -- many of the Republicans who are now voting against it did vote for it under Presidents Reagan and Bush, and we believe it's an important bill that should be passed now.

Q: Has he tried to call any Republicans?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not certain. He may have, but I just don't have the specifics.

Q: Can you --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.

Q: A follow-up on stimulus. Does the President think that people like Stenholm and Breaux and Boren on the Senate side are completely off base with their complaints about the additional spending and the stimulus -- the part that isn't really targeted for jobs and the part that bothers them about too much spending now without the tax cuts to --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, the President's package is paid for over the four-year period. The President believes all these investments are important, and he believes that this stimulus investment package needs to be passed now.

Q: Are there elements in there that came as a surprise to the White House as they apparently come as a surprise of some members of both the House and the Senate?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the Appropriations Committee often adds projects on their own or looks at some reconfiguration of the various projects. But this package overall represents the President's priorities and he believes it has to get through.

Q: What circumstances have changed since the President made his comments about the need for a peace envoy? Is there less conflict? What's different now than there was when he thought it should be done?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, the President is not saying that it shouldn't be done. He's saying that it's an open question, that he intends to continue talking to Great Britain and Ireland about. And he is prepared to send a representative when it will be useful, when it will advance the peace process.

Q: Why wouldn't it advance it now? I mean, when he said it in October he gave the impression he would like to do it then if he were president. He's now in a position to do it; why wouldn't it help?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to look at his comments. I don't know that he set a time on it or set a date certain or gave any characterization of the timing. But he is still prepared to send an envoy when it will be useful for the talks.

Q: What would it help now? What is it about the circumstances that would make that --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's what he's discussing with Great Britain and Ireland at this time.

Q: In their judgment then it would have to --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that would certainly be one factor. I mean the peace is going to have to be made on the ground in Northern Ireland with the parties who represent the people involved. We are prepared to help facilitate that process in a way that we can, in a way that would be useful.

Q: One could assume that the prime ministers of those countries, or at least one of them, told him it is not helpful now, he should not get involved. Is that correct?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't characterize the comments that the President received in private conversations with other heads of state, but what we can assume is exactly what the President said. He is open to this idea. He will continue to pursue it in discussions with Great Britain and Ireland.

Q: How confident are you, George, that before the Easter recess the stimulus package and the budget resolutions will pass both Houses?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's certainly something that we would like and we're going to continue to press for passage as quickly as we can. Right now we feel that this package is needed, that there is support in the country for this package and that we can get the support of majorities in the House and Senate to pass them. We would just like to do it as quickly as possible.

Q: Do you think it's doable before the recess?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to do our best.

Q: Forgive me if someone's already asked you this, but several of the senators had suggested a week or so ago some plan under which the entire package would be passed, but some of the money would be essentially held in abeyance until the actual deficit reduction reconciliation package is passed; and the White House had seemed potential receptive to that. Is that still a possibility?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what the state of that is in the Senate right now. Right now we're faced with a vote in the House on the entire package for immediate implementation, and the President wants that vote to go through.

Q: When it gets to the Senate, would the President be receptive to that sort of kind of a two-track thing where you would pass the whole thing but not necessarily spend the money right away?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now the President wants his package passed as is.

Q: George, what does the President hope to accomplish in tomorrow's meeting with the EC President?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He hopes to have good consultation with the President of the EC on the very important trade matters that stand between the U.S. and the European Community on GATT. And he would like, as he has said earlier, to have completion of the GATT Round as quickly as possible this year and will be pursuing fast track.

Q: For how long?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's been determined yet.

Q: What are the main trade issues there that they need to talk about? Are you talking about aircraft, steel, what?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Aircraft, steel, oil, seeds, general agricultural, trade.

Q: Did the USTR consult with his colleagues at the NSC and State Department before choosing to break off that round of talks with the EC earlier this week?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so.

Q: You believe that there was coordination in the administration on that?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.

Q: Does the President have anything new in particular to present to Delors?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that there will be any new proposals. If there are, we'll let you know.

Q: Is there any expectation that this meeting will move the process forward?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We certainly hope so. It's one of a series of consultations the President's had with European leaders, and we hope to continue those.

Q: What's the time of the meeting, please?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not sure. I think midday but I don't have the exact time.

Q: On government regulation in general, from meat safety to immunization, Clinton seems to be much more government activist than either Reagan or Bush. Would you describe what Clinton's policy is on government regulations to further social policy?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President obviously supports appropriate regulation and wants to make sure that we don't have bodies like the Council on Competitiveness under President Bush and Vice President Quayle which simply gutted regulations which were designed to protect consumers and others. What we have to do though is make sure we have the appropriate balance and make sure that we do everything that we can to strip away needless or overly burdensome regulations, but keep in place those that we need to protect the American people.

Q: George, some of the Irish nationalists would say that there are human rights abuses in Northern Ireland for Catholics who can't get jobs. Does the President think that there are human rights abuses in Northern Ireland. And if there were to be some type of envoy, would that person look into human rights abuses in Northern Ireland?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the envoy -- if an envoy were to be appointed or if a representative were to be appointed, he would do what he could -- he or she could -- to advance the peace process. Obviously, if there were allegations about human rights abuses, that would be something we would look at.

Q: Is there concern or have there been discussions that doing -- engaging America directly into the situation might provoke terrorism here?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that that's necessarily come up.

Q: George, does the President believe that there have been human rights abuses in Northern Ireland by the British?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if I want to characterize the stance of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but it's something we will always look into. I would refer you to the State Department human rights report.

Q: But during the campaign he did talk about human rights in the context of this.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And we want to make sure that human rights are protected. I don't have any specifics before me today, and if we had any I would come forward with them.

Q: During the campaign the President spoke of wanting to end the practice of turning the diplomatic corps over to political appointees and raise up the diplomatic corps more than previous Presidents. Why then did he appoint Jean Kennedy Smith?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would point out that a number of career ambassadors were appointed just this week. I don't have the countries before me, but I think about a half a dozen career officials were appointed to major ambassador posts this week. Jean Kennedy Smith has a distinguished career in the arts as a representative of the U.S. She's a good Irish American. He believes that she will serve her country well.

Q: A certain number of political appointments are all right, then; you don't have to have professional diplomats everywhere.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not everywhere. The President will pick people he feels can best represent the country.

Q: The Oregon health plan -- the deadline is coming up on that. Is that -- where does that stand? Is that a decision that's going to be made over here or over at HHS? What's the degree of White House involvement in the --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's a decision that is officially with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala. We expect it on Friday, I believe.

Q: Has she been consulting with the President on it or with Carol Rasco, with the First Lady or --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, obviously she's been consulting with a wide range of federal and state groups; and obviously she'll consult with the Domestic Policy Adviser and get our views.

Q: Do you know who in the White House she has consulted with?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume Carol Rasco.

Q: George, in selling the President's economic recovery program, have members of the Cabinet or the White House staff gone to business groups or unions and encouraged them to give soft money to the Democratic Party to help sell the program? Or have they, in the same fashion, urged these groups to use their own lobbying network to lobby members of Congress for the President's programs?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there have been any solicitations for financial help for the DNC. And, again, I think that we have had contacts to explain the President's the President's program to a variety of business, labor, other consumer groups. And that's part of our job. to end the practice of turning the diplomatic corps over to political appointees and raise up the diplomatic corps more than previous Presidents. Why then did he appoint Jean Kennedy Smith?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would point out that a number of career ambassadors were appointed just this week. I don't have the countries before -- but I think about a half a dozen career officials were appointed to major ambassador posts this week. Jean Kennedy Smith has a distinguished career in the arts as a representative of the U.S. She's a good Irish American. He believes that she will serve her country well.

Q: certain number of political appointments are all right, then? You don't have to have professional diplomats everywhere?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not everywhere. The President will pick people he feels can best represent the country.

Q: The Oregon health plan -- the deadline is coming up on that. Is that -- where does that stand? Is that a decision that's going to be made over here or over at HHS? What's the degree of White House involvement in the --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's a decision that is officially with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala. We expect it on Friday, I believe.

Q: Will -- has she been consulting with the President on it or with Carol Rasco with the First Lady or --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She's been consulting with a wide range of federal and state groups, and obviously she'll consult with the Domestic Policy Advisor and get our views.

Q: Do you know -- has consulted with?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume Carol Rasco.

Q: George, in selling the President's economic recovery program, have members of the Cabinet or the White House staff gone to business groups or unions and encouraged them to give soft money to the Democratic party to help sell the program, or have they, in the same fashion, urged these groups to use their own lobbying network to lobby members of Congress for the President's programs?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there have been any solicitations for financial help for the DNC. And, again, we have had contacts to explain the President's program to a variety of business, labor, other consumer groups. And that's part of our job.

Q: I ask that only because Congressman Michel wrote a letter to the President yesterday, in which he spells out in there what the federal law is on the use of federal funds for lobbying Congress. And suggests, otherwise suggests that perhaps the White House Staff, other members of the administration might be out of line.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They've acted fully within the guidelines of the government.

Q: Forgive me if I missed something, I just want to follow up. Is Ray Seitz staying in London? Has a decision been made on that?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He is currently the ambassador and there hasn't been any other appointment made.

Q: I mean, that's been traditionally one of the political plums that goes out and the British have been very anxious to keep him as a career diplomat there. Is the President contemplating a change?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes the Ambassador is doing a good job. And if he has an announcement to make on a replacement, he'll let you know then.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:13 P.M. EST

Citation: William J. Clinton: "Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos", March 17, 1993. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=60131.
 
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